By ADAM SWIFT
PEABODY — The city is close to reversing a ban on medical marijuana facilities.
Thursday night, the city council voted to support a zoning amendment that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries along a small stretch of Route 1 North.
The proposed zoning amendment signals a change in direction for Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. and the council.
“There’s a stark difference between operating a medical marijuana facility and a retail one,” said Bettencourt. “I strongly oppose recreational marijuana being sold in the city of Peabody.”
While allowing medical marijuana sales in the city would reverse course for city officials, Bettencourt and several councilors said there were several reasons to make the change now. The mayor said the city could face legal action if it continues to prohibit the sale of medical marijuana.
And Bettencourt said that he is now more comfortable with state regulation of medical marijuana and has seen people who have benefitted from treatment. Councilor-at-Large David Gravel echoed that sentiment.
“Since the advent of the state law allowing medical marijuana, I’ve interacted with a number of people that participate in the program and have a medical marijuana card through a doctor,” said Gravel. “It has shaped opinion on the role that pot use has for these people. I think there is a place for it. I don’t think that anyone who uses marijuana medically will say it is inconvenient to go to Route 1.”
The proposed zone runs along four parcels on Route 1 North from Bertucci’s to Don’s Hardware and includes a large parcel of undeveloped land behind the businesses, according to Bettencourt.
Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin cast the lone council vote against the medical marijuana zone.
“I do agree we need to have a zone,” Manning-Martin said. “My concern is that we seem to be rushing into it while there is a lot of information out there that seems to be unknown. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but we need more time to know what the laws are and where we are headed.”
Council President Joel Saslaw voted for the zoning change, but said he has some concerns about the small size of the proposed area where medical marijuana sales would be allowed.
“Maybe there might be a small area on the southbound side (of Route 1),” said Saslaw. “I’m somewhat concerned that such a limited area could open us up to possible litigation.”
Bettencourt said he believed that the zone as presented was appropriate for the use.
As officials work to allow medical marijuana sales in the city, they are taking a different approach to the sale of recreational marijuana. A ballot question in November will ask voters if they want to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in the city.
Bettencourt has been a vocal proponent of the ballot initiative, and said his commitment to helping pass the ban will only increase as the election draws nearer.
“One of my proudest moments has been working with the city council to allow the citizens of the city to vote on recreational marijuana,” he said.
The statewide recreational marijuana initiative passed last November, but Peabody voters did not support the measure.