ESSEX — Town voters will be asked to make some major decisions next month, when a Special Town Meeting warrant asks them to accept language on a medical marijuana dispensary bylaw, sign on for a three-year deal with the Northeast Mosquito Control District, study the federal channel of the Essex River with an eye toward a potential dredging project — and arm police officers with electronic control devices, better known as Tasers.
Officials initially proposed a one-year hold on a marijuana dispensary coming to Essex, but town leaders are now looking to allow and site a potential nonprofit, medicinal marijuana dispensary in the town.
The language in the bylaw that will come before voters in November states that any medical marijuana dispensary proposal would be considered as a special permit, with any such special permit going before the Planning Board for approval. Other examples of specially permitted uses include airports, recreational facilities, private schools, hospitals and nursing homes, according to the town’s bylaws.
Kimberly Drake, who chairs the Planning Board, said the town rarely sees special permits. She said the most recent special permits in Essex were issued for the placement of cell towers.
But three applicants have already approached Essex officials about opening a medicinal marijuana facility or cultivation center.
The bylaw defines a medicinal marijuana facility as a nonprofit that “acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes, transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials to registered qualifying patients or their personal caregivers.”
Unless otherwise specified, the proposed bylaw reads, “Medical Marijuana Treatment Center or Registered Marijuana Dispensary refers to the site(s) of dispensing, cultivation, and preparation of marijuana.”
While Gloucester is taking steps to allow or limit placement of a medicinal marijuana facility based on existing zoning, the Essex bylaw would leave the siting of any facility up to the Planning Board on a case-by-case basis.
Essex Police Chief Peter Silva previously voiced some security concerns and was skeptical of the medical benefit of marijuana. And he’s not the only one.
Dr. David Driscoll, who chairs the Essex Board of Health, said he does not disagree with idea of medicinal marijuana, but he said the evidence supporting medicinal marijuana is largely anecdotal.
“The studies aren’t there to really legitimize it,” he said.
Driscoll voted against the ballot question that was approved last year, calling for at least one and no more than five medicinal marijuana dispensaries in each county in the state.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a medication being approved by popular vote,” Driscoll said.
Yet Driscoll applauded the town’s efforts to establish language for a medicinal marijuana facility, and taking a proactive approach to the issue rather than seeking a one-year moratorium.
“I think that Essex is doing the responsible thing by putting down some ground rules,” he said.
A number of other articles on the warrant have come before voters before.
In the Special Town Meeting in November 2012, Essex Moderator Rolf Madsen ruled the Northeast Mosquito Control District article out of scope. Silva had also eyed the purchase of Tasers at same meeting, though that request was ultimately withdrawn from the warrant.
In addition, voters shot down an article at the Annual Town Meeting this year to do a study of the encroachments of the federal channel of the Essex River, the first step toward dredging the river.
The meeting is set for Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Essex Elementary School.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.