Two South County towns are considering a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana clinics until they can establish regulations to determine where best to site such facilities in their towns.
Sheffield and Egremont officials say a moratorium will give them the necessary time needed to develop and adopt zoning bylaws governing the proper location of the clinics.
"We're looking for about a year," said Sheffield Planning Board Chairman David Smith Sr.
Sheffield planners will hold a public hearing tonight on the town's proposed moratorium. In Egremont, the Planning Board has scheduled a similar hearing for April 1 to discuss a possible moratorium through Oct. 31, 2014.
Both proposals are subject to voter approval at both towns' annual town meetings in May and by state Attorney General Martha M. Coakley. Coakley recently upheld Burlington voters' decision to enact a temporary moratorium until June 30 2014, so that town had ample time to pass regulations on siting local dispensaries for medical marijuana.
However, Coakley has said cities and towns can't ban the dispensaries because such a measure would conflict with a new Massachusetts law. Medical marijuana and dispensaries to distribute pot were approved by 63 percent of Bay State voters last November.
The efforts by Sheffield and Egremont comes as the state Department of Public Health is preparing to release draft regulations on the establishment of the clinics. The DPH is expected to issue its proposal on Friday and present it to the Public Health Council next month. If approved by the council, which reviews all health policies in Massachusetts, the rules governing marijuana dispensaries could go into effect May 24.
Since the state's timeline doesn't give towns ample time to react to the regulations, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission has urged all 32 cities and towns in the county to pass temporary moratoriums, according to regional planners.
"Cities and towns have a long process to adopt zoning," said BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns.
Pittsfield is unlikely to consider a moratorium, according to Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, as his proposal to regulate dispensaries within the city is already before the Community Development Board for review.
"We're compelled to move along with our regulations," Bianchi said. "We'll be ahead of the curve with our planning."
Meanwhile, the pending state regulations have prompted the BRPC to send the DPH a letter requesting the state rules to still allow for municipal control on siting the clinics.
The law approved last fall permits up to 35 nonprofit dispensaries or treatment centers within the state, but no more than five can be built in any one county.
James Mullen, BRPC representative from New Marlborough, said planners want to avoid clinics being concentrated in a single community.
"Given the linear shape of our county, we should emphasize that one [clinic] be in the south, one central and one north," said Mullen at the BRPC meeting on Thursday.