WOBURN - On a unanimous vote, the City Council at its recent meeting extended the moratorium on medical marijuana shops by one year, until Dec. 31, 2014.
The council imposed the moratorium in February, but it was slated to expire at the end of this year. Several other communities have imposed temporary bans in the wake of the passage of a referendum in 2012 that allows medical marijuana shops in the state. At the time that moratorium was initially imposed, city officials were awaiting guidance from the state Dept. of Public Health, which subsequently issued guidelines for the sale of marijuana.
Councll members recognized the need for the city to come up with regulations for Woburn.
"The voters have spoken, and it's very important we do this the right way," said Ward 1 Alderman Rosa DiTucci. "This (extension of the moratorium) will give us a little bit of time, but we're not going to ignore the voters."
Ward 4 Alderman Michael Anderson and Alderman at-large Richard Haggerty, both of whom have said in the past they would prefer an outright ban on marijuana sales, also acknowledged the need for the council to come up with regulations.
"At some point, we need to address this," said Anderson.
The only person from the audience to speak during the public hearing was resident Edwin Walker, who said he was opposed to any local rules and regulations that would override the will of the voters, who he noted supported the referendum by a 2-to-1 margin.
"All you're doing is kicking the can down the road," said Walker.
Following the passage of the referendum in 2012, City Council President Paul Denaro, Ward 6 Alderman Michael Raymond and Anderson sponsored a zoning ordinance that would limit medical marijuana shops to the IP-2 zone. Also, medical marijuana uses cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a residential zoning district, public or private school, or a church or similar religious facility, or 2,000 feet from a public park, playground, nursery school or day care center.
There is only one IP-2 district in the city, in the Commerce Way/Presidential Way area. The IP-2 classification was created about a dozen years ago as the city’s designated location for so-called adult uses, at the time in response to an adult bookstore opening on Main Street in Reading by the North Reading line. The bookstore closed after a fire.
Proponents of medical marijuana say smoking the substance can ease the effects of debilitating conditions like cancer, HIV or AIDS, glaucoma and epilepsy. Use of the drug would require medical clearance. At least 16 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, including Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine.
Opponents note the law could allow someone to possess a marijuana supply of as much as 60 days. Federal law also prohibits marijuana possession.
In 2008, Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in the state. The new law established a civil fine of $100 for those caught with a small amount of marijuana in place of a possible of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
(Material from the Associated Press was used to compile this report.)