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City Council Still Moving Toward Ban on Pot Shops in Peabody

The City Council continued a public hearing Thursday on a zoning amendment to ban medical marijuana facilities in Peabody until Jan. 24. The delay is for the council to receive a necessary recommendation from the Planning Board first.

The City Council postponed its vote Thursday night on a ban of medical marijuana facilities in Peabody, but the outcome of the vote is all but assured.

Councilors initially leant their support to Mayor Ted Bettencourt in November, agreeing to send the issue along to the Planning Board for a recommendation on a zoning amendment that would prohibit dispensaries or growing facilities from setting up shop anywhere in the city.

The Planning Board voted Jan. 3 unanimously in support of a zoning ban, but the subsequent recommendation, which is needed for the council to act on, was too late to make it on for the council's Jan. 10 session.

Bettencourt and councilors again briefly discussed their concerns Thursday night of medical marijuana, which was voted into law by ballot question in November, and continued the hearing until Jan. 24.

Bettencourt said he has "serious concerns" about the new law and still has yet to receive any information or guidelines from the state, which will be regulating the pot shops.

"I understand there is some value to medical marijuana, but I feel that this type of [treatment] should be done at a medical facility," Bettencourt said -- not where the average citizen can just drop in to a corner pot shop. "I’m hoping that it’s going to be very restrictive, but we don’t know at this point."

His concerns include what the rules and regulations will be, who will write them, how they will be enforced, whether cities and towns will have any local control, will there be criminal background checks on facility owners and employees, doctor/patient relationships -- there are no answers to those questions at this time.

In the absence of those answers, and with the city's health director, police chief and the District Attorney all opposed to the law, Bettencourt says it's in the best interest of Peabody to not allow marijuana facilities in the city.

"I think this is the right thing for Peabody and I’m asking for your support on this," he said Thursday.

Since the passage of the ballot measure two months ago, city councilors and the mayor have received calls from multiple individuals interested in setting up shop in Peabody. Under the law, such facilities would be nonprofit operations rather than commercial businesses.

Bettencourt argued that potential shop operators are doing their research and due diligence now in order to move quickly once state regulations and licenses are finally available. He wants to be proactive and send those startups on their way when that happens.

Only Ward 4 Councilor Bob Driscoll voted against supporting Bettencourt's request in November, arguing a ban was premature without seeing what state health officials would do. Driscoll offer any comment on the issue Thursday.

Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz again criticized the new law. He argues it's really about moving toward legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts rather than providing pain relief to patients with debilitating illnesses.

Sinewitz makes that argument because pharmaceutical pill forms containing the same or similar chemicals as in marijuana have been around for years. They are controlled and legally prescribed by a doctor. One common trade name is Marinol.

Sinewitz said he spoke from personal experience with a family member who had cancer -- he even added that the pills seemed to help with the pain.

Marinol and other similar pharmaceuticals aren't exactly the same as smoking marijuana, however -- they are less complex substances than the actual plant -- and patients in favor of traditional pot say the drugs are not as effective at relieving pain.

Jean Ahearn January 14, 2013 at 12:34 AM
Jane, I have lived in Peabody since 1985. Hardly an outsider. I have talked to quite a few people on this issue and find that it seems to go along with the way we voted: a little more than half were in favor. I also have great pride in Peabody and I respect our government officials. All the policies have not been put in place yet. And not "any drug dealer" would be able to set up a shop - there are rules and regulations. Medicine is regulated and that will included medical marijuana, and as you know, it will require a prescription.
Jane Smith January 14, 2013 at 10:50 AM
@Jean, right now there are no regulations. According to the law, anyone can open a pot shop, and that includes drug dealers. Under the law they would be able to sell marijuana laced with anything in these pot shops. What do you say to the cancer patient that ends up with a bad reaction with the laced contents? There is no requirement on the quality and purity of the pot. Right now there is also no oversight as to what would happen if they gave pot to someone without a prescription, so basically these pot shops would not be held accountable for giving pot to the general public. Remember you can't threaten them with losing their medical license because they have none to begin with! Once one pot shop is allowed, they will push for more in the community, as what happen in southern California. Don't even allow one in. The marijuana lobby is very well financed, and they play on all of our concerns for the ill. Don't let the marijuana lobby play on your sympathy. I know first hand of patients successfully handling debilitating pain by using pain medications, such as OxyContin, provided through a pharmacy. There will be no tax benefit for Peabdy because they have the nonprofit status. Need I go on as to how we don't need pot shops in Peabody? Forty other communities have votes against pot shops. We have the right to also vote against pot shops. Stay Strong Peabody! Peabody Pride!
Joan January 14, 2013 at 03:18 PM
Good points, Jean. Nice to hear a voice of reason.
Joan January 14, 2013 at 03:29 PM
According to the mass Secretary of State's website, there are 39 cities and 312 towns in Massachusetts. If, as you claim, 40 of them have chosen a ban, that amounts to 11% of the towns, hardly a majority. I have also been a resident of peabody since 1989. I have volunteered for our youth football organization and sent a son through the public school system and saw him graduate from Peabody Veteran's Memorial High School as an MVP. No one has more Peabody Pride than myself and the parents I was privileged to know during that time. Most of us are in support of this new law because it is time for people to get the medication they need. We need these dispensaries because the medical establishment and the federal government absolutely refuse to allow medical marijuana. There is currently no other way for people to get the relief this medication provides. Peabody has always been a town of the working people. Stay strong indeed, Peabody, and support what the People of Peabody have voted for!
FlyingTooLow January 14, 2013 at 03:48 PM
I copied the below comment from another website. I think the American veteran who wrote this sums it up very well: "I am a disabled Army Veteran and smoke marijuana strictly for medical purposes. I never smoked before I broke my back in the military and it hasen't been a gateway to anything. I started smoking because of my cauda equina syndrome. I had a herniated disk in my lower back that compressed the nerves at the lower end of my spine (cauda equina nerves). The doctors couldn't prevent permanent damage, so I am left with permanent pain that is so severe that it leads to vomiting on a consistant basis without my medacine (marijuana). The doctors prescribed me morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, oxycotton, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, etc... All of the above named meda... cines made me useless, I hardly knew what was happening around me. On top of that, they didnt help with the pain or the vomiting from the pain. I felt like bugs were crawling under my skin. After complaining about this for a while, friends and family handed me cannabis. I was reluctant at first, due to the stigma that goes along with it. After I gave it a try, I realized that it was far and away a better solution than any of the above named DRUGS. I had none of the issues with cannabis that I had with all those other PHARMACEUTICAL DRUGS. I can function and carry on with my life. Marijuana has made me a better person and a far more functional parent and husband."

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