MA: Large Turnout Expected At Special Town Meeting For Marijuana Vote

Photo Credit: RYAN HUTTON

On Tuesday, North Andover voters will decide the fate of marijuana businesses in general, and a proposed 1.1 million square foot cannabis cultivation facility, at a Special Town Meeting at the high school.

Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo is projecting a massive turnout, akin to the record-setting 3,200 attendees in 2006 when the town voted on a controversial trash transfer station.

Here’s a guide to prepare you for Tuesday:

What’s on the warrant

There are six articles voters will decide.

Articles 1 and 2 are citizen petitions filed by a group of residents mobilized as Citizens For A Drug Free North Andover. Article 1 is a general bylaw that will prohibit non-medical marijuana establishments in town. It requires a simple majority. Article 2 is a zoning bylaw that would prohibit all non-medical marijuana uses in town. It requires a two-thirds majority.

Yes votes on these articles would ban all non-medical marijuana establishments from setting up shop in North Andover.

Article 3 is a general bylaw that will allow cultivation, independent testing labs, and manufacturing, and ban retail and craft cultivation establishments in town. It was crafted and sponsored by the Board of Selectmen.

A yes vote will ban only retail and craft cultivation establishments in town, while allowing cultivation, independent testing labs, and manufacturing.

Articles 4 and 5 have been crafted by the Planning Board to regulate marijuana establishments in the town’s marijuana overlay district, in relation to the newly approved commercial marijuana law. Article 4 is a zoning bylaw outlining allowed uses, and Article 5 amends the zoning map to reflect the changes.

Yes votes on these articles would update the zoning bylaw in town regarding marijuana establishments, and grant Massachusetts Innovation Works the zoning necessary to move forward with its proposed 1.1 million-square-foot cannabis facility at 1600 Osgood St.

Article 6 is a citizen petition that authorizes the town to enter into negotiations for a host community agreement. Selectmen already have this authority, and the town manager released a draft agreement earlier this week — which projects $5 million annual in payments to the town for 20 years — so this article has no weight.

What to expect Tuesday

DiSalvo, in anticipation of large voter turnout, said the town has implemented some changes to the standard Town Meeting procedure.

The doors will open at 5 p.m., and DiSalvo recommends getting there early.

North Andover High School only has parking for 400 cars. DiSalvo noted that in addition to carpooling, there is also a shuttle option, thanks to Brooks School’s letting the town use several of its buses. Residents can be picked up behind North Andover Middle School and at the North Andover Senior Center.

The buses will be available until shortly before the meeting begins, and will only make return trips after the meeting has concluded.

Unlike previous Town Meetings, voters can now check in electronically.

“We’re asking people to have their driver’s licenses ready,” to be scanned with a Poll Pad device, said DiSalvo, who noted that information from licenses will not be saved for any other purpose than check-in.

Residents who do not wish to check in electronically can proceed to the usual check-in tables.

Once your voter registration has been confirmed, you will receive a wristband that identifies you as a voting member of the meeting.

Inside the field house, 500 or so seats will be on the gym floor. The rest of the seats will be bleachers. The gym holds 2,729 people. If it fills to capacity, overflow space will be in the auditorium, which holds 800 people.

DiSalvo said even those in the nosebleed bleachers should be be able to see and hear, thanks to a professional audio-visual team and multiple screens.

How did we get here

North Andover voters rejected the ballot question in Nov. 2016 that legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.

At Annual Town Meeting in May 2017, voters approved a moratorium on recreational establishments, and rejected citizen petitions put forward by the group proposing the facility at Osgood Landing.

The group was seeking zoning for the project, so even though it received about 58 percent of the vote, they failed to get the two-thirds necessary to amend zoning bylaws in town.

A criticism of the project — from town officials and residents alike — was that there wasn’t enough time to vet it.

The group, now operating as Mass. Innovation Works, returned to the Planning Board for discussions as the board crafted a comprehensive bylaw to regulate marijuana in town.

In December, Massachusetts Innovation Works submitted a petition that compelled the town to call a Special Town Meeting before February to meet deadlines with its applications to the state.