MA: Shrewsbury Debates Recreational Marijuana Sales

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Dozens of people packed the selectmen’s meeting room Tuesday night to say whether they think the town should ban or allow commercial recreational marijuana retail establishments in town.

The Board of Selectmen held the public hearing to get feedback from residents on two warrant articles that could be presented at an upcoming town meeting. One would be to ban the sale of recreational marijuana. If that failed to pass, a second warrant article would seek to regulate it in specific zones. If the town took no action, the establishments could operate in zoning districts where all other retail sales are allowed.

Steve Vigeant, chairman of the Board of Health, said all three members this month voted in favor of a ban on recreational marijuana facilities. They would take another vote on any proposed warrant articles. But if the decision is to not institute a ban, he would like regulations put in place that would give his board some control over the facilities.

Recreational marijuana businesses will begin applying for licenses to operate in April. The state is set to begin allowing retail marijuana sales in July.

Municipalities like Shrewsbury, where a majority of voters voted no on the statewide ballot Question 4 in 2016, can adopt an ordinance or bylaw prohibiting or limiting the number of establishments at town meeting or city council.

Those where the majority of voters voted in favor of the measure, have to have a ban or limit on the number of establishments approved at a municipal election.

Even if a community bans the sale of recreational marijuana, they can not stop a person of legal age from growing marijuana, purchasing it from other communities or having it delivered to their home. Municipalities also can not ban medical marijuana establishments.

Most people who spoke at the public hearing, like David Remington, who resides at Stoney Hill Road, said they support prohibiting the sale of recreational marijuana in town.

He said possession and the sale of marijuana is still a violation of federal law, something that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently emphasized.

Mr. Remington said because of that, facilities can’t keep their money in banks. As a result, he estimated that a marijuana shop could have $6.6 million on hand. The estimated $200,000 the town could get in revenue, would be “dwarfed by the crime,” he said.

“The town will see no profit. In fact the town will have to take money from resources to fight this. It will cause harm to our community and cost us money,” Mr. Remington said.

Gil Cronin of 160 Crescent St., who spent 40 years in secondary education, said he fears how marijuana will impact youth in town. He was particularly concerned with edible marijuana that look like candy. He said a 2-year-old child in Denver died after eating a brownie containing marijuana that belonged to his father.

A woman who said she is a primary care provider said she sees a lot of patients in clinical practice suffering from effects of marijuana. She said research shows that marijuana lowers a person’s IQ score by 12 points.

“My daughters who are in 7th and 8th grades know of students who are vaping and smoking and they know what bongs are. I didn’t,” she said. “Our town is a family-friendly town. This is not a source of revenue we need.”

Matthew Karas said he doesn’t believe that banning marijuana is going to stop anybody who wants it.

“These people are going to be purchasing it, growing it, consuming it. You’re not stopping any consumption in town,” he said.

One woman who agreed with Mr. Karas said people can go to Worcester and other nearby communities to purchase it. She said the town might as well get some of the tax dollars generated by the industry.

Jonathan Winn, who said he has worked in the medical marijuana industry the past two years, said marijuana is a safe alternative to opioids that have killed a lot of people, including some of his friends.

He said he was pretty sure marijuana has not killed anyone.

A woman, who disagreed with him, said the son of one of her coworkers was killed after being struck by a vehicle driven by a driver under the influence of marijuana.

Town Manager Kevin J. Mizikar said the state limits the number of retail recreational marijuana shops to 20 percent of the number of package stores, which are 11. If town meeting decides to allow and regulate recreational marijuana establishments, the board would recommend two licenses.

Westboro was the first municipality in the state to ban recreational marijuana establishments from opening within its borders. Other Central Massachusetts communities that have followed include Southboro and Southbridge.

Northboro selectmen plan to present a warrant at its April 23 annual town meeting to ban all recreational marijuana establishments in town.

Milford prohibits new recreational marijuana businesses, but allows businesses approved prior to July 1, 2017 for medical marijuana testing and cultivation to expand into the commercial recreational marijuana market.

Worcester, Uxbridge, Sutton and Grafton are among the communities that plan to allow recreational marijuana shops.