While Mayor Ted Bettencourt is staunchly opposed to allowing recreational use of the drug in his city, he believes marijuana does have a legitimate medical use and is moving ahead in that vein to identify a zone where a dispensary could operate in Peabody.

The City Council is slated to discuss what amounts to a zoning overlay for a stretch of land along Route 1 in its Industrial & Community Development Subcommittee on Thursday, starting at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

The relatively small area would be confined to the northbound side of the highway from the interchange with Route 128 near Holiday Inn up to the overpass near Sonic Drive-In and three hotels. Only one dispensary would be allowed.

There are a couple of empty parcels with several acres there that are developable, Bettencourt said. The land is also only accessible from Route 1, which he said was another important consideration.

The land in that area is all zoned as business regional, which allows for various types of commercial uses by right. This use too is proposed as by right, although Bettencourt anticipates that may become a discussion point for the council Thursday night.

Bettencourt had been an early opponent of medical marijuana, going so far as to convince city councilors in 2013 to ban dispensaries from setting up shop in Peabody. But he said the past four years have shown that state public health officials have a good handle on regulations and enforcement.

“I believe the state has strong oversight on this,” he said.

The same is not true, he said, of recreational marijuana, which was approved statewide as a ballot question this past November. The question failed in Peabody, where 52 percent of voters who cast ballots opposed the measure.

Concerns of recreational pot prompted the mayor’s action here. Bettencourt first submitted a draft of the proposed zoning amendment to the council just days after the election.

The proposal outlines how the use would be governed under a special permit from the city. Current zoning language banning medical marijuana would be deleted and replaced with several sections of detailed regulations.

Those regulations, which overlap with state laws, stipulate any such facility will be a nonprofit operation licensed by the state Department of Public Health, no marijuana will be consumed on the premises, no other businesses will be allowed to operate in the same facility nor will any type of housing be allowed within the same building.

A dispensary will also be barred from operating a pharmacy, doctor’s or practitioner’s office who is authorized to prescribe medical marijuana; it won’t be open to the public; signs will be posted to alert clients they need a state registration card; and even ventilation is addressed in the zoning.

The language states proper ventilation should prevent odors from marijuana or its processing from being detected by a person with a “normal sense of smell” outside the business or at an adjoining property.

Dispensaries would also be required to submit annual reports to the city.

Bettencourt noted the measure could also provide a format for possibly managing retail marijuana operations if necessary.

Since first notifying the council last fall of his wish to create a zone in Peabody for medical pot, Bettencourt said several interested parties have come calling.

In the last couple of months, three to four people have made inquiries, he added.

Meanwhile, the council has agreed to place a referendum before voters on the city ballot in November to ban recreational pot in Peabody and has signed off on an ordinance that bans smoking marijuana in public as well.

Staff writer John Castelluccio be reached at 978-338-2677 or jcastelluccio@salemnews.com.