Pubdate: Mon, 10 Sep 2018
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Author: Elaine Thompson


Six days after confirming approval of medical marijuana dispensary
bans in Northboro and Bellingham, Attorney General Maura Healey's
office reversed its decision.

In an Aug. 25 Telegram & Gazette story, a spokesperson for the AG's
office confirmed that the office in June approved bylaws passed in the
two towns that ban medical marijuana dispensaries. The 2012 Medical
Marijuana law originally prohibited any municipality from banning
medical marijuana dispensaries. An AG spokeswoman said at the time the
approval was based on Section 56 (subsection d) of Chapter 55 Acts of

But after being contacted by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy
Alliance and others with questions about the Telegram & Gazette story,
officials in the AG's office said they revisited the earlier decisions
and the law and determined an error had been made - municipalities are
not allowed to ban medical marijuana establishments.

They said the error was made because the office - which reviewed more
than 300 municipal bylaws in June when the Northboro and Bellingham
bylaw approvals were rendered - was overwhelmingly focused on
adult-use recreational marijuana.

The office wrongly treated the medical marijuana issues like adult-use
recreational marijuana, AG officials said Monday.

"Upon further review, we now determine that these approvals of the
bans on medical marijuana treatment centers were given in error,"
Margaret J. Hurley, assistant attorney general, who is director of the
Municipal Law Unit and chief of the AG's Central Massachusetts
Division in Worcester, wrote in Aug. 31 letters to town clerks in
Northboro and Bellingham.

She went on to explain that such bans are not permitted now for the
same reason she, while serving in the same capacity under former
Attorney General Martha Coakley, determined in 2013, that the town of
Wakefield could not ban medical marijuana facilities.

"As explained in our decision in Wakefield Case #6601, such a ban
would frustrate the purpose of Chapter 369 of the Acts of 2012, "An
Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana," to allow
qualifying patients who have been diagnosed with debilitating medical
conditions reasonable access to medical marijuana treatment centers.
Chapter 369's legislative purpose could not be served if a
municipality could prohibit treatment centers within its borders, for
if one municipality could do so, presumably all could do so."

The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which represents more
than 50,000 registered medical marijuana users, was caught off guard
when told on Aug. 25 by a Telegram & Gazette reporter that the AG's
office had approved two medical marijuana dispensary bans.

Michael Latulippe, the group's qualifying patient adviser, said at the
time his agency had contacted the AG's office and "we will ensure they
recant this gross misinterpretation of legislative intent present in
Chapter 55 ... I can assure you that the AG's office did not review
the regulations."

Mr. Latulippe could not be reached Monday for comment about the AG's

Town administrators in Northboro and Bellingham said they were
surprised by the new decision, but will comply with it and seek advice
from town counsel. Both said, so far, the reversal has not had any
effect in their town. They have not received any inquiries from
operators of medical marijuana dispensaries.

"Although this development with respect to the bylaw is obviously
unexpected and frustrating, the legal implications, at least at this
time, appear minimal," Northboro Town Administrator John W. Coderre
said in an email.

He said in any event, the town has been allowed to ban recreational
marijuana operations. The majority of voters in Northboro voted
against ballot Question 4 in 2016, which legalized adult-use
recreational marijuana.

"As a practical matter this is likely to make the town less appealing
for medical marijuana dispensaries looking to set up operations, as
there would be no opportunity for co-location with, or conversion to,
a recreational marijuana facility," Mr. Coderre wrote.

Bellingham voters supported Question 4, but in a subsequent referendum
and special town meeting earlier this year they overwhelmingly voted
to ban dispensaries, but allow marijuana cultivation in industrial
zones with a special permit from the Planning Board.

Bellingham Town Administrator Denis Fraine, when asked if the reversal
of the ban opens the town to medical marijuana dispensaries, he said
it's possible.

"Theoretically, certainly that is the position that seems to have been
determined with that letter (that reverses the ban). But we're still
working with town counsel and obviously we respect the opinion of the
Attorney General's office," Mr. Fraine said.

The AG's office also sent copies of the reversal letters to three KP
Law attorneys, specialists in public sector law, including Katherine
D. Laughman, who are town counsels for Northboro and Bellingham.

Ms. Laughman on Monday, pointed out that the AG's office initially
agreed with KP Law's position and approved both towns' bylaws.

The approval, she said, was based on the fact that Chapter 369 of the
Acts of 2012, which required that there be at least one medical
marijuana dispensary in each county, was subsequently repealed by
Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 and will be replaced by G.L. c.941.

She said the language in the 2012 law that the AG's office relied on
for their decision to not allow Wakefield to ban medical marijuana is
not in the new medical marijuana statute, Chapter 941. Once the
regulatory authority of medical marijuana is transferred from the
state Department of Public Health to the Cannabis Control Commission
by the end of the year, the prohibition of medical marijuana
dispensaries would potentially be a lawful local option, Ms. Laughman

" ... The actions of Northboro and Bellingham were perhaps premature,"
she said. "This is a fast-moving area of law in which all interested
parties are constantly trying to keep up with the amendments to the
law, especially as it pertains to the intersections between the
medical and adult use laws, which were initially governed by separate
regulations and regulatory bodies."

Officials in the AG's office, however, said that is not likely.

They said the CCC will be working to similarly disfavor bans on
medical marijuana dispensaries and encourage the broad license of such
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