While Massachusetts voters recently legalized medical marijuana, the debate is far from over. Towns and landlords are left struggling to protect themselves while also complying with existing laws.
Several Massachusetts towns and cities have discussed banning dispensaries altogether through the use of zoning bylaws and ordinances. Others want to move them to adult or medical-zoned areas, which would be less subject to legal challenge than an outright ban. However, as dispensaries can open as of January 1, 2013, there is not a lot of time to make such changes. Additionally, the Department of Health has up to 4 months to finalize all of the related regulations, so cities and towns are not sure exactly what to anticipate and plan their zoning around.
However, while towns and cities are exploring their options, local landlords are already taking action. Local landlords have gone to the media with their concerns regarding the new law. It is still against federal law to sell, use, or buy marijuana, even medical marijuana. While the Obama administration has not made going after medical marijuana users a top priority, the risk of prosecution remains. And that risk includes the possibility that a landlord’s property could be seized for being used for a tenant’s marijuana-related activity under civil asset forfeiture laws. Landlords fear that renting to a dispensary or a person growing marijuana legally for medical use could open them up to such federal actions.
One part of the law that has gotten little coverage is that it allows people who lack reasonable access to a dispensary to grow up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for their own use in a closed, locked facility – presumably their homes. Many of these homes are owned by landlords, who worry about the impact that the process of growing marijuana could have on their properties, and who fear violating federal law and facing those repercussions. However, as what constitutes a “60-day supply” is one of many issues yet to be resolved through the propagation of DHA regulations, it appears landlords will have to wait and see what problems implementation may bring, and what they can do to counteract them.
While the DHA and local officials play a waiting game, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has also joined in on the issue, backing a zoning amendment to impose strict limits on the ability of dispensaries to open up. It remains to be seen whether other regulations will follow suit, or if those who are concerned will have to defer to majority approval of the new law.