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August 21, 2013

Editorial: Time to talk pot zoning rules

It’s a scenario we’re seeing more and more among our neighboring cities and towns. Yet it’s one that neither Gloucester nor any of Cape Ann’s towns have moved to address — at their potential regulatory peril.

As noted in Tuesday’s Times, Georgetown is the latest community to confront a perfectly legitimate request to explore opening a business geared to the state’s new medical marijuana law. In this case, Elizabeth Holland of an LLC called Medical Evolution is seeking to operate a “marijuana cultivation center,” or growing facility in a building on Jackman Street. And — no surprise — town officials were quick to find they have no zoning conditions regarding where such a facility can or should be allowed.

What if someone were to file a similar proposal for Gloucester? Or for Rockport, Essex or Manchester?

Zoning bylaws here and around Cape Ann have no such provisions either. And, simply put, officials need to recognize that up to five med pot dispensaries can and likely will be placed in various communities around Essex County.

There’s no reason to think that — given our communities’ senior populations— at least one entrepreneur will not seek to open in Gloucester or elsewhere on Cape Ann. And city and town officials would do well to start discussing or writing zoning regulations that will give communities a means of steering them to specific areas, perhaps in or near pharmacies, which already deal with tracking medical records and other issues that will no doubt be part of this distribution process.

Nearly a year after voters overwhelmingly approved the new state law — which carried all four Cape Ann communities — state officials are still sorting out aspects of it. But it’s clear that siting local dispensaries will be squarely up to cities and towns and their zoning provisions, and it should be.

It’s time for officials here to get started – before an application puts them, under the gun as well.

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