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Mass. towns need to stop stalling on marijuana rules

Marijuana plants at Sira Naturals, a cultivation facility in Milford.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Globe staff

Cities and towns in Massachusetts can ban marijuana stores — and dozens have, following a process detailed in the new marijuana law.

Or municipalities can allow pot retailers, with regulation and taxation. Dozens have done that, too.

But as recreational pot sales have become legal (officially as of July 1), lobbyists for the fledgling marijuana industry fear that some cities and towns might be mulling a third option: De facto bans, in the guise of “temporary” moratoriums that circumvent the intentionally laborious process for enacting explicit prohibitions. Pot advocates rallied at the State House recently to protest Attorney General Maura Healey’s decision to grant a moratorium extension requested by the Town of Mansfield, which they fear could create a new precedent.


Right now, those fears seem, well, paranoid. Mansfield is the only town so far to win such an extension, and it presented good reasons. The town is clearly trying in good faith to grapple with the local regulatory issues raised by legalization, including changes to its zoning, and in fact has already put some rules in place.

Still, skepticism is definitely called for if other towns try to garner extensions. Moratoriums are supposed to be a planning tool, to give towns time to make planning decisions. It’s been almost two years since the legalization referendum passed. The fact that most towns have managed to write regulations suggests that it’s doable, and raises questions about how hard the laggards are really trying.

Some municipalities need to approve changes at town meetings, which are typically held in the spring — but the regulations were finalized before many towns held their town meetings for 2018, making that excuse less convincing now.

Going forward, towns should be expected to demonstrate that they’ve already made a good-faith effort to adjust to the pot law, as Mansfield has. If they can’t point to any such steps, they shouldn’t be permitted any further delay.


After all, it’s not supposed to be easy to ban marijuana sales permanently, especially in towns whose residents voted for legalization in the 2016 referendum. Voters in those municipalities need to approve bans by a townwide vote. Communities should not be able to slow-walk regulations as a way to keep out marijuana sales.

As for the towns that have decided outright to ban marijuana sales: That’s their right, but the pattern that’s emerging confirms some of the worst fears aired during the 2016 campaign. In Greater Boston, for instance, wealthy, mostly white suburbs like Milton, Lexington, and Weston, have all banned local retail. In Concord, which voted for a ban June 12, opponents cited fears of allowing pot shops near schools.

Residents of Concord felt it was okay for somebody else’s kids to be around marijuana retailers, though — the town’s voters approved legalization in 2016. One is forced to wonder: Which children did the overwhelmingly white and wealthy towns have in mind, and would they have voted differently in 2016 if all state residents were exposed to its consequences equally?

Massachusetts is headed toward a two-tier system, strongly correlated to race and privilege, and the law allows it. It’s not a pretty picture — and if towns try to make it even worse through moratoriums, officials should just say no.