After nearly two hours of debate last week, Town Meeting voted not to ban recreational marijuana establishments.
The vote, taken April 23, was 97 yes and 78 no on the article to ban the establishments. But the article failed because it was 20 votes shy of the required two-thirds vote. A two-thirds vote was required because of the zoning component, which would allow recreational establishments in the same two zones where medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed.
Town Meeting also approved zoning districts where recreational and medical marijuana facilities can locate. Members also voted to require marijuana facilities to undergo a special permit process. Additionally, Town Meeting approved Article 3, which adopts a 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, and Article 4, which prohibits consumption of marijuana on town-owned land.
Shrewsbury is considered a “no” community on marijuana because the town voted 54 percent to 45 percent against the 2016 statewide ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana. “No” communities need only approval from Town Meeting or their city councils to ban recreational marijuana. Other communities need to do it through the ballot.
Many Town Meeting members who spoke against allowing recreational sales said the town should wait to see how other communities deal with the issue. Others expressed concern that young people would have more access to marijuana. Those in favor of allowing retail sales said the town can use the additional revenue, and said that not allowing shops in town would not stop residents from buying marijuana in other communities.
David Remington, a resident who spoke in favor of a ban, noted that while the state approved the recreational use of marijuana, it is still against federal law.
“When people talk about state’s rights, it’s not the law,” he said, adding that such shops would increase crime and increase the need for more money for public safety and infrastructure.
He also suggested, like others, that the town should take a wait-and-see approach.
“Let’s take some time. Let’s see the benefits and the problems. We can always go back and vote them in, but we can never get rid of them.”
Melisa A. Hollenback, a Precinct 9 Town Meeting member, spoke in favor of allowing retail marijuana shops. She said the town needs the revenue. Otherwise, the additional revenue would be lost to Worcester and Grafton, where adult marijuana sales are allowed. People who come to Shrewsbury to legally buy marijuana would also likely patronize other local businesses and restaurants.
“The sky didn’t fall when alcohol was finally allowed to be sold in supermarkets, and it will be the same with the cannabis retail sales,” she said.
Martha Deering, a Precinct 4 Town Meeting member and alcohol and drug use counselor, said since recreational marijuana became legal, her caseload in a substance abuse facility has increased significantly.
“The number of people coming in hooked on weed is huge. When they’re hooked on it, it’s hard to get them off,” she said. “It is damaging people’s brains.”
School Superintendent Joseph Sawyer said while the science is clear that marijuana is harmful to the developing adolescent brain, more and more students think it is not harmful or only slightly so.
He said that’s the perception of about 40 percent of high school students, and about 17 percent of middle school students. He said the indication is that some youths are self-medicating because of an explosion of anxiety and depression.