AYER -- Special Town Meeting Monday night rejected a controversial warrant article that would have put a one-year moratorium on the opening of a medical-marijuana dispensary here.
The vote, which was 45 for the moratorium and 93 against, was followed by loud cheering at the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School where the session was held.
"It didn't surprise me," said resident Peter Johnston, 85, a member of the Planning Board here for more than 40 years. "Let me say this: I'm in favor of it if people need it medically. There are sick people and they need the help."
During a spirited discussion that often appeared to veer off track, Town Moderator Tom Horgan Jr. reminded voters that they were there to consider the proposed moratorium, not the merits or evils of marijuana.
In November, 63 percent of Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question that would make medical marijuana available through a strictly regulated system of protocols and licenses. In Ayer, more than 60 percent of voters favored the dispensaries.
In recent weeks, however, moratoriums on allowing the dispensaries have had a domino effect across the state, particularly in communities around Boston. Tyngsboro, Westford, Chelmsford, Billerica, Peabody, Wilmington, Dracut, Westminster and Fitchburg have passed moratoriums.
In Ayer, voters rejected amendments to the warrant article that would have shortened the proposed one-year moratorium to 90 days or six months.
Arguments for and against the question were passionate and occasionally angry, and more than once a voter attempted to filibuster.
"I'm not for a moratorium," declared Selectman Gary Luca. "This is a pro-business town and we're looking for business to move in."
Luca said he has read the 50-plus pages of regulations approved, and released by the state on May 24.
"Up front, they (a dispensary operator) have to put a half million (in escrow)," he said.
Selectman Janice Livingston agreed.
"I am not for a moratorium in any way, shape, or form," she said.
One voter, who did not say his name clearly enough for the town clerk to record it, argued that the state law allowing medical-marijuana dispensaries will encourage abuse. "People will move here to be close the dispensary," he said.
Others urged voters to delay making a decision for a year.
John Hillier, of Shirley, has expressed interest in opening a nonprofit dispensary, Compassionate Care, at 31 Central Ave. Hillier attended a public hearing several weeks ago where the Planning Board agreed to support a moratorium.
Monday's vote gives Hillier the ability to continue the application process.
There are no medical-marijuana dispensaries operating in the state yet, but the attorney general has said she expects the first ones will open by the end of the year.
Under state law, up to 35 dispensaries may be located in the state, with up to five per county.
Voters at the Special Town Meeting also approved a warrant article authorizing the town to raise $8.8 million to fund the town's assessment for the Ayer Shirley Regional School District, a decision that was put on hold until state aid information was available.