The idea might have seemed doomed from the get-go. For starters, the early February public hearing was called to address the “Regulation of the Arlington Board of Health Restricting the Sale of Marijuana.” Furthermore, the occasion came as the result of a punt, as town selectmen voted four months earlier to postpone the issue of addressing their first dispensary opening until “further discussion.” Despite supporting medical cannabis in 2012, it looked like Arlington was stalling when the reality of a dispensary hit home.
At this public forum, however, the overwhelming sentiment in the room favored action, and the residents who spoke up had concerns over how—not if—a medical dispensary should open in their town. In their opening statements, board members reminded the crowd that their body doesn’t decide “if” or “where” a dispensary can open, but rather “how to regulate one, should it come to that.” Up for discussion was the actual wording of formal guidelines. The procurement, storage, handling, licensing, and dispensing of cannabis fall under the purview of the Arlington Board of Health; as such, this was not the appropriate forum for debates over zoning, community, or morality.
Anyone who came for a heated town hall shouting match probably left disappointed. One vocal resident voiced a broad concern about the already-granted rights of individuals to obtain a “hardship cultivation permit” to grow cannabis. “What is the town regulating,” she asked, “and are these regulations discriminatory?” To which a board member responded, “This is a financial-administrative issue,” adding, “What has been proposed by the state [regarding the obtaining of a hardship permit] is not burdensome.”
The next issue was over the “30-day supply” rule, which stipulates a maximum purchase limit of five ounces in a month. A concerned resident, who emphasized that she was not a medical patient or recreational user herself, said she hoped the town would consider pushing the supply limit to 60 days because “the difference between 30 and 60 days matters if you’re not well.” In response, a board member said, “We designed these regulations not to be prohibitive. We’re trying to be kind.”
Only two shades of doubt dimmed the sunny prospect of an Arlington dispensary. One very pro-medical marijuana resident did not want a possible recreational dispensary piggybacking the same retail space, should marijuana become legal in the future. Another wanted a way to limit the number of dispensaries in the area, and to extend the state buffer zone required—between such operations and school zones and parks—from 500 to 1,000 feet. Both issues, however, fell outside the scope of local health officials.
Moving forward, albeit slowly, the board’s final item was regarding a proposal to reconvene at a later date and review comments made throughout the evening. Members agreed that more discussion is necessary to address certain regulations, and they set an agenda to fine-tune stipulations before a vote is even scheduled. So while the people of Arlington wait for consensus on some minor points, at least the wheels of bureaucracy are grinding toward the will of residents.
Dave Gentry is a content marketer and freelancer. He’s a fan of progress and recess who answers to #davertido. The Tokin’ Truth is produced in coordination with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.