, Newburyport, MA

January 7, 2013

Legislature should put priority on fixing new marijuana law

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The new edition of the Massachusetts Legislature has been seated. Now, it is time to act, particularly on those matters approved by voters in the recent election.

The new Legislature includes returning Merrimack Valley Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, whose district includes Newbury, Rowley, Groveland and Georgetown, and newcomer Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport.

On the House side, newly elected representative Leonard Mirra, R-West Newbury, takes a seat along with local incumbents.

Their agenda in the days ahead will likely be a lively one, between new concerns over budgeting, revenue streams, local aid issues and other bills awaiting renewed action.

But there’s one item that should be at the top of lawmakers’ dance cards — and it shouldn’t take months of dancing around it either. It’s the expected tweaking and implementation of the new medical marijuana law that gained voters’ overwhelming approval at the polls in November.

The fact that medicinal marijuana gained the roaring approval of voters in every Massachusetts community except Lawrence and the small town of Mendon speaks to the level of support it has. And while that goes against the grain of public safety officials, this is a time when lawmakers need to recognize the will of the voters and give it their priority.

Despite the referendum’s broad approval, there is much work to be done — largely in determining how and from where the now-legal marijuana, with valid prescriptions, will be distributed. The referendum calls for 35 such “dispensaries,” with at least one and no more than five in each county. Yet some communities — notably nearby Peabody and Danvers — are already digging in their heels against the siting of any such facilities there, while most other cities and towns, including Newburyport, are discussing what limits they can set on the locations of dispensaries.

It seems that the ideal medical marijuana “dispensaries” would be existing pharmacies, given that they already have security systems in place for dispensing and controlling all sorts of prescriptions as it is. But do the pharmaceutical shops want that responsibility? Should cities and towns set up specific zoning geared toward pot dispensaries? Should the state hold the licensing cards when it comes to siting and regulating such shops?

All of those are valid questions that need answers before this new voter-approved law can truly be implemented. And voters who so loudly gave it their approval should not be put on hold by lawmakers they also chose to carry out their wishes.

Too often, Massachusetts legislators have hemmed and hawed over implementing laws passed by voters through the initiative petition process. While this bill includes provisions that allow the Legislature to set the ground rules for giving patients access to marijuana, legislators should not use that power to delay the law’s implementation.

The new Legislature should put this law in the fast track — starting today.