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February 10, 2014

When Jody Lehrer approached Dr. Deniz Z. Leuenberger, associate professor of political science, about getting her master’s degree, she had little idea that the timing of her research into the state’s fledgling medical marijuana law would coincide so perfectly.

“Very fortuitous,” says Lehrer, who earned her master’s degree in public administration from BSU in December. The law permitting the humanitarian use of marijuana was approved at the polls in 2012. Only about a month after Lehrer earned her degree, the state Department of Public Health approved the first phase of licensing for 20 registered marijuana dispensaries.

So Lehrer’s research and expertise in how communities are implementing or about to implement the law has put her in high demand. Towns and cities are seeking her out as they try to navigate the nuances of the law and how to permit them under their zoning bylaws. Lehrer was asked to speak in November before the Massachusetts Area Planning Council to help communities understand what is required of them. Many communities have enacted moratoria as they try to determine where to site dispensaries in their towns.

“I tried to really maintain neutrality when I was researching and leave my opinions out of it,” Lehrer says. “But as I joked with Dr. Leuenberger before … my little way of warming up to people when I'm talking to them about the issue is to say that ‘I can look you right in the eye and tell you that I've never once in my whole life smoked marijuana for medicinal purposes.’ That's what I start with and then I start asking my questions.”
Lehrer is quick to point out that politics have been removed from the discussion. “Over 63 percent of the people who voted on this issue voted in favor of it,” she says. “The politics have been hashed out at the polls.”

It’s not a question as to whether communities will allow such dispensaries, but rather where will they be placed in their towns, Lehrer says. “

Lehrer, who earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of New Hampshire, Durham, in 1983, and a law degree from the progressive Antioch School of Law (now the University of District Columbia’s David Clark School of Law) in 1986, has been working in the public sector for more than 20 years. For the past 12 years she has worked for the town of Weymouth, administering its Community Development Block Grant program.

Despite continuing her research and providing information about how communities are dealing with the law, Lehrer admits that she realizes the issue can be divisive. “I’ve certainly been given an earful by many people I’ve spoken to on both sides of the aisle about this issue. So it’s been very interesting,” Lehrer says. “All the time I’ve toed a hard line and tried to keep my own personal viewpoints out of it. But I can say that I’ve known people who’ve been very, very ill with different varieties of illnesses who have said that medical marijuana has helped them. I will say that.”
View Ms. Lehrer’s report. (Steve Ide, University News)

Jody Lehrer