Pubdate: Fri, 16 Mar 2018
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Dan Adams


Marijuana companies will be banned from a majority of cities and towns
in Massachusetts when recreational sales begin this summer, a Globe
review has found, the latest indication that there will be fewer pot
stores in the early going than many consumers expected.

At least 189 of the state's 351 municipalities have barred retail
marijuana stores and, in most cases, cultivation facilities and other
cannabis operations, too, according to local news reports, municipal
records, and data collected by the office of Attorney General Maura

Fifty-nine of the local bans on marijuana businesses are indefinite.
The remaining 130 are temporary moratoriums designed to buy local
officials time to set up marijuana zoning rules. Many expire on July
1, and the rest are due to end later this year.

Still, for marijuana companies hoping to get in on the ground floor of
the lucrative, newly legal industry, that means more than half of the
state's municipalities are off-limits as they scout for locations this

"Communities right now are going extremely slowly on this whole
process," said Jim Smith, a Boston attorney whose firm represents
cannabis companies seeking host municipalities. "By Labor Day, I can't
imagine there will be more than half a dozen stores. I'm concerned,
because the public expects something different."

For consumers, this means that only a handful of pot shops are likely
to be open in July, when state officials have promised the
recreational market will debut - most likely, existing medical
dispensaries that win a recreational license.

For the state, it could mean falling short of the $44 million to $82
million in annual revenue it expected to collect from the 17 percent
tax on pot sales.

And with more municipalities considering bans and moratoriums, the
marijuana industry's fortunes may decline before they improve.

Local officials defended the restrictions, noting that most will
ultimately expire. They say communities must be allowed to chart their
own courses and need time to set up zoning.

Eventually, "the vast majority of communities will be available for
commercial marijuana facilities," said Geoff Beckwith, executive
director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "A very small
percentage have put in place bans," he added, while other communities
"are going through a challenging process of updating bylaws and

Although 54 percent of Massachusetts voters approved Question 4, the
2016 ballot question legalizing marijuana, proponents of marijuana
have fared poorly in local votes on proposed bans and moratoriums: All
but a handful have passed.

In municipalities where voters supported the 2016 ballot measure,
implementing a ban requires a communitywide vote. In cities and towns
where voters opposed legalization, elected bodies such as town
councils or boards of selectmen can impose a ban without polling residents.

The 59 municipal bans mark a sharp increase from July 2017, when a
Globe review identified just 29. The number of moratoriums also
jumped, from 70 to 130.

Observers noted that local politics generally attract older, more
conservative voters, and said some residents may have favored
legalization in the abstract but feel differently about welcoming a
pot shop to their community.

"There are definitely people who say, 'Yeah, I want it legal, but I
don't want it next door,' " said Adam Chapdelaine, the town manager of
Arlington, where residents will soon vote on whether to extend through
December a moratorium that was due to expire in June.

Other communities, such as Lawrence, have implemented bans over fears
that adding marijuana to the mix will exacerbate their opioid
problems. Elsewhere, local officials have cited the prospect of
upticks in stoned driving and youth drug use, or simply remain opposed
to legalization in the first place.

Prospective marijuana business owners decried the proliferation of
local restrictions. Between the high rents in urban areas and the bans
in many smaller communities, they fear the emerging market will favor
large, well-capitalized companies that can afford to hire consultants
to identify promising parcels and then pay rent or taxes on them
during time-consuming approval processes.

Sean Berte, a Boston entrepreneur who's eligible for a head-start in
the state licensing process because he was previously incarcerated for
growing and selling marijuana, has long dreamed of opening a legal
cultivation facility. But he said he was discouraged by the swath of
communities with restrictions along Interstate 495, where he could
afford real estate.

"I might look at cultivation more seriously if not for all the
moratoriums," he said. "These towns aren't eliminating any problems by
having bans and moratoriums, they're just emboldening the unregulated

Instead, Berte will try to open a retail pot shop in Boston, which has
no ban. But even there, proposed zoning rules mandating a large buffer
between stores could make it difficult to find a site. He's also
worried that the local restrictions elsewhere in the state will limit
the number of cultivators, making it hard to find a supplier.

Chapdelaine and other local officials said they backed moratoriums
because they were waiting for the state Cannabis Control Commission to
finalize regulations and wanted to include residents in a conversation
about where marijuana facilities belong.

"For us, it was just about planning and figuring out how we should
regulate these businesses," Chapdelaine said.

Ryan O'Malley, a city councilor in Malden, added that most Malden
residents support allowing marijuana firms, and that he hopes the
revenue they bring could help the city replace lead pipes and address
other problems.

The cannabis commission submitted its final rules last week and on
Friday issued updated guidance to cities and towns affirming their
critical role in the process of licensing marijuana businesses.

"There's a lot of local control, and that's really going to dictate
how quickly this market unfolds," said David Torrisi, executive
director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, an industry group
representing medical dispensaries.

Cities and towns that haven't implemented formal, indefinite bans
cannot use overly long moratoriums, zoning rules, bylaws, or other
"unreasonably impracticable" measures to effectively prevent marijuana
companies from locating within their borders, according to the
commission. They also cannot demand unlimited payments from operators,
a problem that's bedeviled the state's earlier medical marijuana program.

However, municipalities can require special permits and a separate,
local application process. Prospective marijuana businesses must also
host a community meeting to take questions from residents and
negotiate a "host community agreement." with the city or town.

Marijuana businesses and their attorneys said that a company
confronted with unreasonable local demands is more likely to simply
move on to another community than sue its future host city or town
over the matter, giving municipalities an advantage in

And proponents say they're already hitting such speed bumps, including
municipalities that have confined marijuana companies to tiny
industrial districts on the edge of town, or have implemented large
buffers around schools and day cares that, drawn out on a map, cover
nearly all of their territory.

"Just because there are 162 communities without bans or moratoriums,
we cannot assume that there are 162 welcoming communities," said
Smith, the cannabis lawyer. "These bans and moratoriums are just the

Kamani Jefferson, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer
Council, said he was optimistic that the finalization of state
regulations would prompt cities and towns to replace their moratoriums
with zoning. He also said he's counting on an underwhelming
recreational rollout to galvanize pro-marijuana consumers against
further local bans, noting that many local restrictions were
implemented at sparsely attended hearings or through low-turnout,
off-cycle referendums.

"I'm hoping it gets the people who want a store in their area more
active in terms of asking, 'What's taking so long and what can we do?'
" he said.

Matt Rocheleau of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Matt