Saturday February 23, 2013

The Bianchi administration has provided a sensible framework for regulations on medical marijuana clinics that the Pittsfield City Council can begin working on, most likely by sending the measure to the Ordinance and Rules Committee Tuesday. The beleaguered state Department of Public Health will probably be wrestling with clinic regulations past the May 1 deadline, but Pittsfield and other communities should be ready before then.

Two Massachusetts communities, Wakefield and Reading, have banned the clinics, an action that is unlikely to stand up in court given the overwhelming approval of the clinics by voters in a Nov. 6 referendum. If -- or more likely when -- those bans are overturned, the towns could be left without protection. Among other provisions, the administration’s pragmatic proposal requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals and restricts clinics from being located within 500 feet of a residence and within 1,000 feet of a school zone or church.

The referendum question dumped responsibility for drawing up regulations on the DPH, which is dealing with a couple of lab scandals. The DPH must determine what illnesses qualify for medical marijuana, how much can be distributed and for how long, whether only pharmacies can distribute it or patients can grow their own -- among a host of other issues.

While the medical community is not convinced of the benefits of marijuana to patients suffering from pain, nausea and other problems attributed to cancer and other serious diseases, there is substantial anecdotal evidence that it can help. And it is the law. While Pittsfield is the most likely site for the one dispensary that is mandatory for Berkshire County, there are provisions for 35 of them around the state, and North Adams and Great Barrington should be prepared as well.