April 18, 2014

Medical marijuana debate blazes on

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard tackled the question of medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, following three debate sessions by the Williston Planning Commission that ended in a 2-2 deadlock on Nov. 6, with two commission members advocating for the prohibition of dispensaries in Williston, and the other two members maintaining that they should be allowed but be subject to town oversight.

As Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau recounted at the outset of Monday’s Selectboard meeting, although Vermont law has mandated that a maximum of four medical marijuana dispensaries may operate in the state at any one time, individual municipalities are granted the authority to regulate or prohibit such facilities.

The board also heard from Dr. Adrian Webb, the lone Williston resident in attendance. Webb, who introduced himself as a psychiatrist with 30 years of experience treating drug abusers, disagreed with the opinions of the two Planning Commission members who were quoted in the Observer as opposing medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Basically, I was a little concerned about the printed comments which I felt were somewhat naïve in the Williston Observer, if they’re to be accurate, with regard to what happened in the Planning Commission—naïve from the perspective of who would be utilizing these clinics,” Webb said. “I would like to think you go into this with your eyes wide open as to what it may be utilized for. There is indeed a deserved population with multiple sclerosis, with cancer, who need appropriate management of severe nausea.”

Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs suggested that personal predilections about marijuana should be set aside when considering a medicinal product that has been conditionally approved by the state legislature for medical use.

“There are certainly various things that are sold in Williston that we give licenses for that I would rather not, but the powers that be, our legal system, have decided that they are legitimate products and they should be allowed to be sold, and that’s always been my guiding light if we give a license to somebody selling tobacco, for instance,” Fehrs said. “So I’m wondering if I’m missing anything in my thinking about how we should approach medical marijuana and personal bias, for or against.”

Selectboard member Chris Roy, while not specifically disagreeing with Fehrs, pointed out that medical marijuana is not under the jurisdiction or control of the Federal Drug Administration, and thus carries with it risks unique from alcohol, tobacco or FDA-regulated prescription drugs sold at pharmacies.

“One distinction with a pharmacy is your typical prescriptions are all controlled substances, so there actually is a whole layer of federal regulation governing pharmacies and how those materials are handled, where they come from, how they’re shipped, who can sign off for them, who can dispense them, who can prescribe them; so there’s a whole federal overlay that enforces that—which isn’t the case with medical marijuana,” Roy said. “Quite the contrary, the federal government treats marijuana as a controlled substance that’s illegal, period.”

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig proposed that the topic be revisited in greater detail at a later date, with input requested from both the Vermont Department of Public Safety and Williston Police Department.

His suggestion was met with approval by the other board members and Dr. Webb.

“I’m pleased that you’re going further to gain more information and not shooting from the hip here,” Webb said.

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