Walpole town officials are supporting a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, which they say will give the town time to decide on zoning bylaws, hear input from residents and see what regulations on the new law will be put in place by the Department of Public Health.
The moratorium, which until lifted would block anyone from opening a dispensary in Walpole, will be on the warrant for discussion at the Spring Annual Town Meeting. If passed, the moratorium would be lifted June 30, 2014.
At the Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday night selectmen said they have submitted the moratorium to town counsel for review and are currently seeking to add language that would prevent people from growing marijuana in their homes until it is lifted.
Town Administrator Michael Boynton said it "would at least buy the community enough time to first digest the rules and regulations that would be issued by the Department of Public Health followed by additional input from the community to make the best judgment decision.”
Medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts on Jan. 1. DPH must have regulations issued on the new law by May 1.
Police Chief Richard Stillman said he is against a dispensary in Walpole and would be in favor of a moratorium.
“I think that personally I would be opposed to a dispensary but at the same time it is now a zoning issue more than it is a police issue. It has been taken out of the law enforcement field, so the community has to look at this and what impacts this will have on quality of life in the town of Walpole,” said Stillman.
Health Director Robin Chapell said she was in favor as well, despite a survey issued by the Board of Health on the town's website where 65.8-percent said they would be for a dispensary in town.
As of Jan. 22 there were 553 responses to the survey. 366 votes for 'yes' and 190 votes for 'no'. 46.7-percent of those who took the survey said they would support a dispensary in the downtown area.
Chapell offered a caveat that they don't know how many of the people who took the online survey were from Walpole.
Selectmen Nancy Mackenzie said she is opposed to the idea of a dispensary in the downtown area.
“I don’t support home growing. But to know that everyone is going to be driving here to pick it up and then driving back home, and based on [the survey results] downtown. So you’re going to have to cut through East Walpole, South Walpole, North Walpole, West Walpole to get downtown. Then you’re going to have to cut back through East Walpole, South Walpole, North Walpole, West Walpole to get where you’re going,” said Mackenzie. “I cannot see how this would be a good idea for Walpole.”
The next step will be for the moratorium to be presented to Town Meeting representatives in May.
Concurrently, selectmen said they would work with town counsel to model a bylaw similar to the town’s public consumption regulation for alcohol to ban smoking marijuana in public.
Selectmen chair Eric Kraus said the town would be issuing a mailing about dispensaries in Walpole that would be included in the annual census packet.
“Please take the time to provide your feedback because that’s going to serve as another helpful point for us,” Kraus said.