David L. Gagne
West Bridgewater town administrator
In light of the adoption of the Nov. 8 ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, West Bridgewater residents will vote on placing a temporary moratorium on dispensaries and sellers of recreational marijuana at its special Town Meeting on Dec. 14. This moratorium process is consistent with the town’s approach in 2013 when it placed a similar temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. It is also in the same spirit as the March 2013 finding by the state attorney general that cities and towns can impose such temporary moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries.
An important provision of the new law legalizing recreational marijuana requires the establishment by the state of a Cannabis Control Commission and a Cannabis Advisory Board. According to the law, the newly defined Cannabis Control Commission “will have general supervision and sole regulatory authority over the conduct of the business of marijuana establishments.”
The problem is neither the advisory board nor the commission has been established yet, and, accordingly, no guidance has been provided by the state to municipalities. Further, the Cannabis Control Commission’s deadline to set applicable requirements for regulating this new industry is not until late next year.
So while the state regulatory bodies do their due diligence to assemble, make recommendations, and await potential amendments the Legislature adopt to the new law, cities and towns are suffering from a lack of guidance on critical issues such as health and safety standards, marijuana packaging and labeling, and state administration of licenses, all of which fall under the Cannabis Control Commission’s scope.
In order to best position West Bridgewater to balance the needs and concerns of our residents, while remaining consistent with the Legislature’s intent, along with the tenor of the approved petition, prudence requires us to gather all information and guidance from the applicable regulatory bodies prior to formalizing local licensing and zoning requirements. In fact, West Bridgewater officials contend it is critical to do so, in order to avoid inconsistencies between state and local requirements. For that reason, enacting a temporary moratorium -- through June 30, 2018 -- is the responsible action for the town to take at this time.
Founder of Massachusetts Mothers for Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana and chairwoman of Women Grow: Boston; Rockland resident
The sky has not fallen, and West Bridgewater needn’t rush to put a moratorium against recreational marijuana dispensaries opening in town. Instead, town residents, administrators, and business owners can assuage their fears by taking the time to read the details presented in the initiative that Massachusetts voters approved by a substantial margin on Nov. 8.
The initiative clearly states that cities and towns have the right to regulate, limit, or prohibit the operation of marijuana establishments. And since these establishments will not receive licenses to operate in Massachusetts until January 2018, state and local municipalities -- and residents -- have the opportunity now to carefully read and understand the initiative and work together in a respectful way to establish sensible laws and regulations.
Specifically, the initiative provides for many local controls, including zoning and the option to impose a local 2 percent tax on marijuana sales on top of required state sales and excise taxes. Western cities with legal adult-use marijuana are using similar funds from recreational marijuana sales to help their homeless, improve their children’s schools, care for their addicted and elderly, and improve their town facilities and services. The initiative also limits the number of marijuana retailers to fewer than 20 percent of the number of the town’s liquor licenses.
One in eight adults uses marijuana, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. A hasty moratorium on recreational pot shops in West Bridgewater will not change that number, but it will cost the town in lost revenue and bad policy based on ignorance and fear-mongering rhetoric that science has negated. Should West Bridgewater decide that the community is better served by sending their residents to neighboring towns to safely obtain marijuana, that’s the voters’ decision in a special town election, as outlined in the initiative. But by taking the time and effort now to understand the initiative, and to understand marijuana itself, not only will voters see that there is no need to rush to judgment; they’ll also see that there is time to thoughtfully plan for what’s next.
Last week’s Argument: Is the zoning change adopted for the proposed North Quincy MBTA station development in the city’s best interest?
Yes: 41 percent (9 votes)
No: 59 percent (13 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at email@example.com.