Nearly two weeks after voters overwhelmingly gave the green light to medical marijuana, local officials are getting ready to confront a host of sticky issues the new law could create.
Vowing to fight it "to hell and back," Brian Lucier, president of the Northern Worcester County Landlord Association, said medical marijuana will be a "nightmare" for landlords across Massachusetts.
First among headaches property owners face are the prospect of increases in crime in apartment buildings where tenants are growing marijuana, he said.
"If the local word gets out on the street that there's pot in there it absolutely becomes a target, attracting crime, vandalism, cancellation of insurance, and again, federal seizure of the property," said Lucier "This is not a good idea."
The threat of federal drug raids will be another concern as long as there is a conflict between state and federal drug policy, Lucier said. There are proposals in Congress that would prevent federal intervention in states that have legalized marijuana, but for now, medical marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.
Lucier said landlords may look to combat the use of medical marijuana by banning smoking in their buildings. This is already done in some properties to protect carpet and paint jobs, he said.
"I'm going to say, 'Great, take the pill,'" said Lucier. "You can't smoke here."
The ballot question, which passed 63 percent to 36 percent, would allow use of
medical marijuana for patients with recommendations from physicians. Those patients could purchase pot or grow their own without facing state penalties.
The law takes effect Jan. 1. The department will then have 120 days to clarify how much marijuana patients will be eligible to receive and where 35 marijuana dispensaries scheduled to open by the end of next year will be located.
Some communities, including Wakefield, Melrose, Malden, Saugus, and Reading, are already considering zoning changes that would keep medical marijuana dispensaries out of their towns.
In Fitchburg, state Rep. Stephen DiNatale said a local business owner recently approached him about the prospect of opening a marijuana dispensary on his property in the city.
"I'd like to see it kept in areas that are retail," said DiNatale, D-Fitchburg. "It's like a pharmacy, basically.
DiNatale opposed the referendum out of concern that physicians could wind up prescribing medical marijuana to people who do not really need it.
"There are major abuses in other states, and that's going to be part of the conversation I have with DPH," he said. "Let's make sure those regulations are well-crafted where it's going to prevent those same kinds of problems."
In Lowell, Police Chief Ken Lavallee has called the legislation "a disaster waiting to happen."
He raised concerns about dispensaries being built near homes or schools and criticized the law for failing to ban marijuana from use in food like brownies or candy that could be tempting to children.
As the largest city in Middlesex County, Lowell would likely be targeted to set up a dispensary, said Lavallee.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana programs. Another 16 states, including Massachusetts, have decriminalized the possession of small quantities of the drug.
Despite passing a medical marijuana law in 2009, residents in Rhode Island have only been able to grow marijuana themselves.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who supports medical marijuana, stopped the three dispensaries approved by the state law from opening out of concern federal officials could shut them down and prosecute their operators. Rhode Island lawmakers are now seeking to appease the federal government by limiting the number of marijuana plants each dispensary can grow.
Richard E. Macdonald, president of the Lowell Landlords Association, would prefer people in Massachusetts get their medical marijuana at dispensaries. He said the lights needed to grow ganja plants could lead to sky high electric bills.
"I can visualize it being a really big problem," he said.