Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday agreed to pursue a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, giving the town time until regulations are handed down by the state Department of Public Health and Island towns can work together to decide how to handle the issue.
The selectmen agreed to have town administrator Robert Whritenour draft town meeting articles calling for a moratorium and a public consumption bylaw, which the selectmen will look at during their next meeting on Feb. 26.
Oak Bluffs, along with other Island towns, have been grappling with the details of the law legalizing medical marijuana, which passed in November and was approved by about 70 per cent of Vineyard voters. Under the guidelines of the new law, there must be at least one medical marijuana dispensary per county, and no more than five. The state originally had until May 1 to issue regulations for the law, but reports have said that deadline likely won’t be met.
“It does place upon all of the individual communities a great deal of pressure in terms of managing the implementation of this law, while maintaining the character of our communities,” Mr. Whritenour said. He said Oak Bluffs already has letters of interest from entrepreneurs interested in receiving licenses. He suggested the temporary moratorium to buy time to sort out details.
“There are a lot of issues with this, and a lot of people are concerned,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “I think it’s prudent for us as a town to wait until those regulations come out.”
Efforts are underway for towns to coordinate a response to the law. All planning boards have been invited to meet in Tisbury next week, and it will be a topic of discussion at an all-Island selectmen meeting in March.
“It is a regional issue,” Ms. Barmakian said. “There needs to be one in the county, so do we sort of agree this town will have it, or that town will have it?”
Planning board chair John Bradford said the board has been looking at the issue since January, and proposes allowing dispensaries in the health care district by special permit.
The public consumption bylaw is also being considered by other towns. Oak Bluffs Police chief Erik Blake said chiefs across the Island are working on the public consumption bylaw, noting that in Oak Bluffs, with public consumption of alcohol and cigarettes banned, “it’s not a large step to say we’re not allowing marijuana smoking in public as well.” The fine could be between $25 and $300 dollars for smoking in public, he said. “That needs to be a deterrent.”