, Gloucester, MA

January 28, 2013

Pot 'dispensaries' shut out of Peabody

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — There will be no medicinal pot shop in Peabody, providing that a unanimous and final vote by the City Council taken last Thursday withstands any judicial scrutiny.

“I do understand the needs of those suffering from cancer,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said, citing a major selling point of the law passed by voters statewide last November — that it’s intended to provide marijuana to those who say that smoking the drug is essential to easing their pain.

But Bettencourt added that there are plenty of reasons to doubt the positive impact of the measure.

“There are so many questions regarding how it’s going to be implemented and how it’s going to be enforced,” he told the council just before the vote was taken. “I’ve worked very hard over the years to try to teach our young people about the dangers of drugs.”

Marijuana shops in Peabody would undercut that message, he said.

The vote in Peabody becomes the first formal declaration by any North Shore city that it will seek to block any medical marijuana “dispensary” from opening within its boundaries. But Bettencourt also pointed to the fact that seven towns — with Melrose the latest — have beaten Peabody to the punch as far as banning marijuana shops.

“I believe we’re the first city,” Bettencourt said. “I think it would be the right thing to do.”

Neither Gloucester nor any of Cape Ann’s three towns, meanwhile, have taken up any formal discussion of the issue, which stems from state voters’ emphatic November approval of a medical marijuana law calling for up to 35 dispensaries – with at least one and no more than five in each county, including Essex.

Peabody major Bettencourt lamented the sorts of people who have approached the city seeking to open a pot shop, noting that they aren’t doctors or medical professionals.

The issue had been debated previously, and Peabody’s city councilors spent little time in discussion last week.

“I guess a lot of people didn’t read the fine print,” said Arthur Athas, citing confusion about the November referendum question and asserting that many were surprised following the vote to discover that marijuana would not be distributed by doctors or in pharmacies.

He expressed doubts that it would pass if offered again.

The Peabody ban, originally sponsored by the mayor, passed 9-0, with two councilors absent, including Bob Driscoll, the only member of the board who expressed opposition to the bylaw. Driscoll has said he believes that the city is acting too hastily, that the Legislature should be given time to deal with the sorts of objections the mayor has raised.

Concerns about the new ban also include worries that the city will be sued. For that matter, Athas argued that some towns are considered within their rights to ban alcohol.

“I know we’ve received some criticism from some areas,” Councilor Jim Liacos said. But he recalled his opposition some years ago to the opening of a Hooters restaurant in Peabody.

“Enough is enough,” he said out of frustration that Peabody already hosts two striptease bars.