Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Advisory Committee met Thursday, October 30, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting the last major set of reviews for the season. Brookline’s fall town meeting starts at 7:00 pm Tuesday, November 18, in the High School auditorium, reached via the side entrance at 91 Tappan St.

On the agenda were Articles 12, 13 and 19–restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and opposing by resolution a natural gas pipeline. The last two no longer seemed controversial. For notices, the Planning Department has instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners, and no action is expected at town meeting. The resolution seems likely to pass.

The proposed zoning change for medical marijuana dispensaries previously got seven full-dress reviews by five boards and committees. All but the Advisory Subcommittee for Planning and Regulation recommended thumbs down. Nevertheless, the full Advisory Committee gave it an eighth review with 28 of the 30 committee members present, lasting over two hours. Only committee members Sumner Chertok and Pamela Lodish were not on hand. An audience of more than 30 listened, clearly divided between support and opposition.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. They require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The boundary of a site must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property. A building proposed for a dispensary may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

As at the other reviews, Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argued that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, although it was clear to all that the state regulation does not apply to Brookline, because Brookline adopted its own regulations, as specifically allowed.

Opponents: Opponents have argued that tightening zoning restrictions for locations as the article proposes would leave no site available in Brookline. A map from the Planning Department agrees. A divided subcommittee proposed excluding dispensaries from sites within “100 feet from a day-care center or 500 feet from any playground or park that includes a play structure.” At the Thursday review, however, subcommittee member Kelly Hardebeck of Precinct 7 backed away, saying she no longer supported additional zoning restrictions and leaving a 2 to 3 majority of subcommittee opposing the article.

Review: The petitioners for Article 12 went through their now-familiar arguments, adding nothing new. Again, Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., a physician, said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana.

Dr. Bruce Cohen, a physician, described a review of Article 12 from the Advisory Council on Public Health, which he chairs. He said medical marijuana is now a variety of products, used in a variety of ways. Some do not contain trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main compound producing euphoria. The council, he said, “found no public health benefit from changing the [zoning] regulations.”

Steven Kanes, a new Advisory Committee member this season, appeared troubled by the whole issue of medical marijuana. If federal law prohibits it, he asked, “should the town be passing a zoning law?” Committee chair Harry Bohrs reviewed development of the issue in the state and the town, saying, “Zoning legislation…is not the only thing. The [Board of] Selectmen have powers to promulgate regulations.”

Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, said the board “can specify delivery conditions in a license.” In Newton, the City Council was said to be requiring amounts of more than an ounce to be delivered by courier rather than purchased over the counter.

Sean Lynn-Jones of Precinct 1, one of the subcommittee members opposing Article 12, objected to the drift of the arguments, saying, “We haven’t talked about the interests of patients…balancing benefits and costs.” The other boards reviewing the article, he said, “feel that Brookline has an interest in making medical marijuana available to patients.”

Several committee members described experiences of people whose ailments did not respond to conventional treatments but who obtained relief from some form of marijuana. A lawyer representing New England Treatment Access, seeking to open a dispensary at the former Brookline Bank site–located at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts.–said the firm will offer a comprehensive variety of medical marijuana products.

The committee voted on two motions: a slightly revised proposal from the petitioners for Article 12 and the proposal generated by the subcommittee. Both lost by large majorities. The only committee members supporting any further zoning restrictions were Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. Mr. Kanes abstained. The fall town meeting will hear from at least five boards and committees, all now on record opposing Article 12.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 31, 2014


Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 28, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 29, 2014

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA


Editor’s note: price claims

A fantasy from the sponsors of Article 12 focused on arbitrage. Customers for medical marijuana, they claimed at several meetings, will buy it for $300 an ounce and sell it on the black market for $400 an ounce. No one challenged self-anointed “experts,” just as happened years ago with “Reefer Madness” promotions (1936) and a few decades of less charming successors.

Since medical marijuana has to be grown and processed under controls and incurs taxes and overhead, a sensible person would expect it to settle in at higher prices than street goods. Legalization of marijuana by the states of Washington and Colorado provides above-ground comparison markets. A recent price survey by Philip Ross documents some effects, published by International Business Times–an Internet news site based in New York City.

According to Mr. Ross, street marijuana sells in the U.S. at an average price of around $350 an ounce, but the price has fallen to about $240 in Washington and Colorado, where it competes with over-the-counter recreational and medical sales. Medical marijuana costs more there, he reports–around $300 an ounce. Where underground sales compete with above-ground markets, competition appears to have induced differential pricing.

According to Mr. Ross, most medical grades are less potent in euphoric effects than street goods, while they cost more. Contrary to the claims from Article 12 sponsors, evidence from this source shows little arbitrage potential in medical marijuana. Instead, the products look more likely to remain specialties of interest to people with ailments that do not respond to other treatments.


Philip Ross, Marijuana costs in the U.S., International Business Times, July, 2014

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