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December 11, 2012

Marijuana dispensaries on Board of Health agenda

NEWBURYPORT — The Board of Health is scheduled to discuss medical marijuana dispensaries when it meets Thursday at 7 p.m. in the conference room of the Police Department at 2 Green St.

Voters statewide last month approved a referendum clearing the way for dispensaries run by nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations.

In Newburyport, the measure passed with 67 percent of the vote; statewide, 63 percent of the electorate voted in the affirmative, according to municipal leaders.

City officials say legal groundwork must be done before a dispensary can be opened in this area.

The approval of dispensaries is a state power, and those interested would approach officials in the state’s Department of Public Health for approval.

However, municipalities interested in hosting such venues might need to alter zoning guidelines to permit such an outlet.

According to Robert F. Bracey, the city’s director of public health, state officials will be developing regulations from January through April.

When legal preparation is complete, state health executives will consider applications in advance of a start date of Jan. 1, 2014.

City officials say that the state measure permits five dispensaries in each county. Municipal leaders are expected to discuss zoning issues that might be applicable if the community is interested in hosting such outlets.

Local health officials also are expected to hear a discussion of a single case of pertussis (whooping cough) that has been identified at the Rupert A. Nock Middle School.

Statewide, the number of cases of whooping cough this year is about 560, compared to 273 last year, Bracey said. City officials say they are dealing with just the solitary case.

Local health officials are available to provide information and answer questions.

“We’re on top of it,” said Bracey. “We want to inform parents about the illness, and provide information on what to look for and when they might see a health-care provider.”

The city Health Department has applied for a state grant that would subsidize free doses of vaccine to counter pertussis.

The Board of Health is comprised of Chairman Robin Blair, a local optometrist; Dr. Susan Beluk and Patricia Lawrence, a registered nurse.

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