By LEAH DEARBORN
PEABODY — City council is putting the question of recreational marijuana sales back on the ballot and into the hands of voters.
At a legal affairs committee meeting on Thursday, council members agreed to take two separate courses of action: a ballot referendum at the next general city election and the adoption of a moratorium, or temporary prohibition on marijuana sales.
The moratorium will be modeled after the town of West Bridgewater’s moratorium, which councilor Anne Manning-Martin said already passed successfully through the state attorney general’s office.
Although voters passed Question 4 on a state level last fall by a margin of 54 to 46 percent, cities and towns retain the ability to limit or ban the operation of marijuana businesses within their borders.
Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said his hesitation in allowing recreational marijuana retail in the city stems partly from how residents reacted to the issue while it was on the ballot the first time.
The measure was fairly unpopular in Peabody, where it was defeated by 2,203 votes.
Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz expressed concern at potential legislation that would tie the number of recreational marijuana licenses to the number of liquor licenses allotted to a town or city.
“I just want to make sure when we go into this, we know what we’re doing,” said Sinewitz.
Bettencourt said a number of questions regarding administration and policing of marijuana have to be answered before he can feel comfortable moving forward with its sale in the city.
“Because each city and town has the ability to put it to a vote, I thought that it should be put forward to them, the voters,” said Bettencourt.
Bettencourt clarified that he is in favor of medical marijuana dispensaries, which are exempt from the referendum. He said he will be proposing a specialized zone on the highway for further study by a subcommittee and possible future use by a dispensary.
“I do see (medical marijuana) as a distinction,” he said.
State Rep. and Councillor-at-Large Thomas P. Walsh said the moratorium will not instantly go into effect. He said that because it’s a zoning amendment, it will have to first move through the planning board and back to the council for advertisement and discussion.
Walsh said the ballot question only addresses the sales of marijuana in the city and not its use.
City Clerk Timothy Spanos said that the referendum will go on the ballot next November. He gave an estimate of July for when the language will be prepared.
Manning-Martin said that so far, a number of cities and towns are considering moratoriums, but Lynnfield is the only town that has pulled the trigger on attempting to institute an outright ban.
Leah Dearborn can be reached at [email protected]