Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jul 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Matt Rocheleau


At least 103 cities and towns - nearly one-third of all Massachusetts
communities - have placed outright bans or other restrictions on
marijuana businesses since voters legalized the drug for recreational
use in November, according to a Globe analysis.

And another 47 municipalities are actively considering restrictions,
the review found, as local elected officials express unease about the
state's venture into legalized recreational marijuana.

Most of the restrictions are temporary, intended to allow local
officials time to consider where marijuana shops should be allowed to
operate in their communities - if at all.

But residents of 29 municipalities have gone much further, voting to
bar all types of recreational cannabis businesses.

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Seventy communities enacted temporary moratoriums of varying lengths
on recreational marijuana businesses. Of those, local officials in 39
municipalities imposed moratoriums even though voters in those
communities supported the marijuana ballot initiative. In some cases,
local elected leaders adopted the freezes at sparsely attended
meetings with minimal public debate.

The findings, based on news accounts and data collected by the
lobbying group for local governments, suggest that recreational
marijuana businesses could encounter considerable friction across much
of the Commonwealth. If there is significant pushback, proponents of
legalized marijuana warn that consumers will be unable to legally buy
recreational pot in broad swaths of the state - especially if a
legislative proposal giving local officials even greater power to
block marijuana businesses is signed into law.

"If people have to drive 40 miles to get legal marijuana, they're just
going to drive 2 miles to get illegal marijuana," said Jim Borghesani,
who directed communications for the group that sponsored the ballot
measure. "We're going to see the criminal market stay in business, and
we're going to see tax revenue lost. It simply doesn't make any sense."

The municipalities that have adopted temporary or permanent
restrictions range from small communities such as Ashby, which is
north of Fitchburg, to cities such as Springfield, and include many
suburbs that ring Boston. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who had opposed the
ballot initiative, has since warned that bans by surrounding
communities could unfairly concentrate pot commerce in Boston.

The question of who should control marijuana shops at the local level
has become a major point of contention on Beacon Hill, where state
lawmakers are negotiating changes to the new law before recreational
sales begin in July 2018.

Question 4, the ballot measure passed by voters, requires
municipalities to hold a communitywide vote if they want to ban pot
shops or limit their number to fewer than 20 percent of the number of
local liquor stores. But lawmakers in the Massachusetts House in June
approved changes that would let elected municipal officials - not
voters - enact those limits unilaterally. The state Senate wants to
keep the ballot initiative's original language, leaving local control
with the voters.

Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday expressed support for the House
approach, noting in an interview with WGBH's Boston Public Radio show
that local officials manage the location of alcohol licensees and "are
on the hook to the people in their community."

The Massachusetts Municipal Association pushed the House provision,
arguing that the rollout of sales next year comes too late for local
voters to weigh in at their usual spring elections. The association
said the ballot law also fails to spell out precise procedures for
organizing votes on pot rules, and robs town and city officials of
customary powers they hold over most other businesses.

"Forcing the inefficient and extremely difficult process of zoning by
referendum would only force communities to delay for months or years,
which works against the interests of the industry," said Geoffrey
Beckwith, the association's executive director.

A cashier rang up a marijuana sale at a cannabis dispensary in Las
Vegas, Nevada earlier this month.

The state's approach to municipal restrictions will profoundly shape
the development of the nascent cannabis industry and, in turn, the
drug's availability to consumers. But after weeks of meetings aimed at
producing a compromise by June 30, House and Senate negotiators remain
deadlocked over local control, as well as the new tax rate on legal

The impasse threatens to further delay the debut of dispensaries,
which lawmakers previously pushed back six months to July 1, 2018. In
Nevada, which also legalized recreational marijuana in November, the
first pot shops have already opened.

Members of the cannabis industry called municipalities' fears
overblown, arguing that the law as written gives local officials
sufficient oversight and that tightly regulated marijuana companies
will cause neighbors few problems.

"At the town level, decisions are made more on emotion and irrational
fear," said Jon Napoli, who runs a hydroponics shop in Boston and
cultivates cannabis for a medical dispensary in Brockton. "If local
officials can just obstruct and obstruct, Massachusetts could easily
lose this golden opportunity to be the first place" with recreational
sales on the East Coast.

Municipal leaders said many of the restrictions were intended to buy
time to draw up zoning rules for marijuana businesses, and to reassure
nervous constituents that they won't let dispensaries open in town
without permission.

In many cases, the moratoriums appear to be purely symbolic, as they
expire around the time pot businesses can finally apply for licenses
in April.

"We didn't necessarily buy ourselves much more time than the state
regulations allow anyway, but it sent a clear policy message," said
Adam Chapdelaine, the town manager of Arlington, where Town Meeting
members in April implemented a moratorium on recreational pot
operations until next June, or until the municipality enacts marijuana
bylaws. "We wanted every resident to know that we will have a planning
process and public discussion about whether or not to have
recreational facilities in town."

About 56 percent of Arlington voters supported Question 4. Chapdelaine
acknowledged the moratorium appeared to be at odds with residents'
votes, and that public awareness of the freeze wasn't widespread. But
he recalled that in 2012, an overwhelming majority of Arlington voters
supported legalizing medical marijuana, yet there was still stiff
resistance when a dispensary subsequently sought to open in town.

"We found ourselves facing some extremely angry residents,"
Chapdelaine said. "Even though people in Arlington voted for it as a
policy for the state, it wasn't clear to them that they wanted one in

The largest gap between a town's policy and its voters' choice on
Question 4 appears to be in the tiny hamlet of Egremont, on the New
York border. There, 64 percent of 845 total voters backed Question 4.
But town meeting members nonetheless blocked marijuana businesses
until February 2019 at the earliest. The moratorium was pushed by the
three-member Egremont planning board, whose hearing on the subject was
attended only by a local reporter and no residents. Officials in
Egremont did not return calls seeking comment.

Residents in at least 29 municipalities have used the authority
granted by the ballot law to impose indefinite bans on marijuana
operations, among them Falmouth, Norwood, and Wakefield. Seven of
those communities did so despite voting in favor of Question 4,
including Stoughton, East Bridgewater, and Medway.

Pro-marijuana advocates argue these local votes were marred by low
turnout common during local elections, while Question 4 was approved
amid a presidential election that saw record turnout of 75 percent in
Massachusetts. Beckwith countered that asking people whether marijuana
should be legal is hardly the same as asking if they want pot shops in
their neighborhoods.

Some in the marijuana industry support a component of the House bill
that would replace an optional 2 percent local pot tax with a
mandatory 5 percent municipal levy. The promise of more tax receipts,
they argue, could sway some communities to open their doors to pot

"I'm all about the host community tax," said marijuana attorney
Valerio Romano, whose clients include a number of prospective
recreational businesses. "Municipalities need an incentive to help
these places get started besides just regulating them."
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MAP posted-by: Matt