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Many towns want to ‘just say no’

When it comes to medical marijuana, some communities north of Boston have adopted an old adage from the antidrug war: Just say no.

Bans on medical marijuana dispensaries have passed in Melrose, Peabody, Reading, Saugus, and Wakefield.

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Melrose became one of the first cities in the state to propose a ban last November. The Board of Aldermen approved the final zoning to keep the dispensaries out on a 10-0 vote Tuesday, with no discussion and board member Gail M. Infurna absent. A public hearing was held in November.

The Malden City Council unanimously approved ordinance changes during its meeting Tuesday to restrict medicinal marijuana centers, vending machines, and businesses where prescription cards for marijuana can be obtained to industrial areas of the city.

Malden’s ordinance changes won’t go into effect until the state finalizes its regulations on medicinal marijuana, City Councilor Jim Nestor said Wednesday.

“Some of us would like to ban them outright, but we couldn’t do that because we felt we would be legally challenged, and we would lose,” he said.

Revere could become the next local city to zone out medical marijuana. On Monday, the City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed ban at 6 p.m., while the Planning Board will hold its own hearing at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Both hearings will be held at City Hall.

‘Without [state] direction, it’s very much a guessing game, as to what kind of protections would be in the regulations for a community.’

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“I just really don’t see how this would be a good thing for Revere,” said Councilor at Large Anthony Zambuto, who first proposed the ban. “I look at what’s happening in California, where there are these [dispensaries], and it’s become a drug dealer’s haven. That’s my fear. It’s too easy to get around this law.”

Many communities have delayed action until the state Department of Public Health develops regulations for the law, approved by Massachusetts voters on a ballot question in the November election.

“Without their direction, it’s very much a guessing game, as to what kind of protections would be in the regulations for a community,” said Wayne Marquis, Danvers town manager. “We’re looking to draft something, but the state [regulations] would be helpful.”

In Woburn, the City Council’s ordinance committee will meet at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss a possible moratorium on implementing any zoning until the state issues the regulations.

“It would put it in limbo, “ said Ward 4 Alderman Michael Anderson, chairman of the ordinance committee. “We would deal with it, once we heard from the state.”

The law legalized marijuana use for people who have cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and other serious medical conditions.

With a doctor’s written recommendation, the person could obtain up to a 60-day supply from a dispensary, where marijuana would be grown, stored, and sold, according to the law.

Although the law went into effect on Jan. 1, the Department of Public Health has until May 1 to write regulations to govern the dispensaries. Among the issues: How much marijuana constitutes a 60-day supply, and how the dispensaries will operate.

The agency is working with the medical community, public safety officials, and local governments to develop the regulations, a spokeswoman said.

“The Department of Public Health will not issue any registration cards, or allow any medical marijuana dispensaries, to open until the regulations are in effect,” Ann Roach wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

The law allows the state to license up to 35 dispensaries in 2013.

More could be added in later years. At least one dispensary, but no more than five, must be located in each of the state’s 14 counties, according to the law.

The law has tested local communities, which must decide if the dispensaries may or may not operate. In cities, public hearings must be held by the top governing board and planning board. The planning board must then make a recommendation to the city council or board of aldermen, which ultimately must vote before zoning could be adopted or changed.

In Salem, the City Council and the Planning Board held a joint public hearing in December, on a proposal to allow the dispensaries to operate in an area where medical clinics are allowed. But after the hearing, the board recommended the council take no action until the state regulations are issued, said Lynn Duncan, the city’s planning director.

In Lawrence, one of two Massachusetts communities to vote against legalizing medical marijuana, the City Council and Planning Board are reviewing possible restrictions, according to City Clerk William Maloney.

Towns considering zoning bylaws to regulate medical marijuana have a longer legislative road.

Once a bylaw is drafted, the planning board must hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the board of selectmen or aldermen. Those boards then have to place an article on the warrant at a town meeting.

Bylaws that pass must be approved by the state attorney general’s office, which has 90 days from submission to make a ruling.

In Reading and Wakefield, voters at special town meetings voted in favor of a medical marijuana ban in November. The attorney general’s office has until March 21 to issue a decision to Wakefield, and until April 11 to decide on Reading, spokeswoman Emalie Gainey said.

In Danvers, the annual Town Meeting will be held in May. The selectmen will start to prepare the warrant in March, which gives little time for regulations to be drafted, Marquis noted.

“I think people still have a lot of questions about how this would work,” Marquis said. “The state regulations will be a very important part of our overall discussion.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe. Globe correspondent Jarret Bencks also contributed to this story.
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