In Newton, to ban or not to ban marijuana stores
Newton voters in November will face two ballot questions asking whether to ban or limit the number of recreational marijuana stores in the city.
Stores selling recreational marijuana were legalized as part of a 2016 statewide ballot initiative, but none have yet opened in Massachusetts. More than 200 of the state’s 351 municipalities currently have bans or temporary moratoriums in place.
On Nov. 6, Newton voters will face a pair of ballot questions. One asks voters to approve an outright ban on recreational pot sales. The other asks voters to allow between two and four recreational marijuana shops in Newton.
The effort to block retail marijuana sales in Newton was spearheaded by Opt Out Newton, which collected enough signatures of local residents to get the question barring pot shops on the ballot.
“We just don’t believe the stores should be in our community. We see it as something that will normalize marijuana usage [and] make it way more available,” said Lisa Gordon, the group’s treasurer.
“We don’t want Newton to become the ‘super-center’ ” for recreational marijuana sales, she said.
Jane Frantz, president of Responsible First Step for Newton, which opposes the ban, said the city should be allowed to regulate a local marijuana industry. Otherwise, the city would be ceding potential tax revenue to communities that do allow recreational marijuana stores.
“Once a ban is passed, we have passed up the revenue to other communities,” Frantz said. “If Newton votes yes on a ban, Brookline is going to be saying, ‘Thank you, Newton.’ ”
In 2016, 25,516 voters in Newton supported marijuana legalization, about 54 percent of the 47,469 votes cast in the 2016 election, according to the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office.
Voters in Newton also backed a 2008 question to reduce possession of small amounts of marijuana from a criminal to a civil penalty, and a 2012 measure that legalized medical marijuana.
“Enough is enough. I don’t know why we continue to try to relitigate this issue,” Frantz said.
On Sept. 13, the City Council put both questions on a special municipal election ballot, which is timed with this year’s state election on Nov. 6.
Joshua Krintzman, a city councilor at large representing Ward 4, said he supports “starting slowly” with a local recreational pot industry regulated by the city.
“The people of Newton spoke [in previous votes], I think they were clear about what they wanted, and so I think their opinion was that this is a business worth having in the state of Massachusetts, and our city as well,” he said.
But recreational marijuana remains a controversial issue.
William Evans, the former Boston police commissioner who is now head of Boston College’s police department, said he is concerned about making it easier to acquire marijuana.
“I still worry, given the opiate crisis that we have, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, the last thing you should be doing is introducing a new drug that is going to be readily available,” Evans said.
Even if Newton voters approved a recreational pot ban, it would not mean the end of legal marijuana in Newton. The ban is aimed at retail stores, and would not prohibit Newton residents from using pot in their homes, or receiving marijuana deliveries via mail order. It also wouldn’t affect medical marijuana dispensaries.
Newton is already home to one medical marijuana dispensary: Garden Remedies Inc., on Washington Street in Newtonville.
Two other companies — Cypress Tree Management Inc., and New England Cannabis Corp. — also are looking to set up medical dispensaries in Newton, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Garden Remedies is seeking permission from the state Cannabis Control Commission and city officials to open a recreational pot sales location in Newton, according to the commission and city records.
Garden Remedies could not be reached for comment.