MA: Wayland – Debate Over Recreational Marijuana

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Photo Credit: Henry Schwan

Sitting behind the wheel of her parked minivan Thursday afternoon, waiting for her son to get out of high school, a local mom summed up the debate in town over retail marijuana.

“You get what you vote for,” the mom, who didn’t give her name, said.

Wayland voted by a razor-thin margin to legalize recreational marijuana in Massachusetts. The November 2016 vote was 4,268-4,189 in support of ballot Question 4. The measure passed statewide.

Wayland is hosting a community forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the large hearing room at the Town Building to find out if residents want pot shops in town. The fact that Wayland supported Question 4 also opens up the possibility of other facilities in town, like cultivation and lab-testing locations.

Pattern repeated

It’s a pattern repeated in many Massachusetts communities that approved Question 4. Local boards of health cite scientific studies that highlight the health dangers of marijuana, especially for adolescents, and encourage residents to opt-out of retail sales.

To opt out, a town must take two steps – a vote at Town Meeting, and another at the ballot box.

Another pattern seen in many communities that approved Question 4 is a moratorium on marijuana sales. Wayland adopted one at November Town Meeting. It expires at the end of this year.

The intention is to give communities time to study the issue before enacting local zoning regulations to control retail sales.

Forum

Town officials and members of local boards will host Tuesday night’s forum. Dr. John Schuler is among the panelists. Schuler is co-chair of the Wayland Board of Health. He’s a retired surgeon, and acknowledged he’s not an expert on marijuana.

″(Marijuana) is a dangerous drug to have available in the community,” Schuler said.

Setting a bad example for young people is one of Schuler’s concerns. If parents occasionally smoke it, their children would think they can too.

There’s also the issue of marijuana edibles. Schuler said Colorado, a state that legalized pot sales, sells marijuana products wrapped like candy, laced with a potent level of TCH (Tetrahydrocannabinol).

THC is the chemical compound in marijuana that gives smokers a feeling of being high. Schuler said today’s marijuana is far more potent when compared to the marijuana of the ’60s – a THC level of 5 percent versus up to 20 percent today.

“If little kids (in Wayland) get a hold of (edibles), it could knock them for a loop,” Schuler said.

Fatal accidents

An increase in fatal car accidents is another concern. Schuler cited an increase in Colorado and Washington state tied to drivers who drink alcohol and smoke marijuana.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Glenn Davis told the Daily News there were 51 traffic fatalities in 2016 with an impaired level of cannabis in the blood system. That compares to 19 annually in 2014 and 2015. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and sales began in January 2014.

In Washington, fatalities connected to a combination of drugs in the blood system jumped 15 percent annually over the past five years, Shelly Baldwin, media director at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, told the Daily News. Baldwin said the most common combination of drugs is alcohol and marijuana.

“The availability of marijuana may be adding to the numbers,” Baldwin said. Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and started retail sales in July 2014.

Wayland Police Chief Patrick Swanick is also concerned about the combination of alcohol and marijuana on the roadways.

“Anything I can do to get marijuana out of the hands of kids is where I’m coming from,” Swanick said.

Not buying it

Tom Sciacca has lived in Wayland for nearly 50 years, and he’s not buying the arguments that oppose recreational marijuana.

For those who argue marijuana is bad for the developing, adolescent brain, Sciacca said the town supports football at the high school. Players suffer concussions, and Sciacca said nobody is calling for a ban on football.

There’s also the hypocrisy, Sciacca said, of outlawing retail marijuana when the town supports the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Those are products widely known to be bad for your health, Scaccia said.

“It’s an entirely irrational reaction against a substance no more dangerous than alcohol,” Sciacca said. “Marijuana is probably more benign (than alcohol).”

Sciacca said he hasn’t taken a puff of pot since the 1960s. All he’s looking for is a consistent policy when it comes to retail marijuana.

“I don’t want inconsistency,” Sciacca said.

Informal poll

An informal poll of a small sample of Wayland High students was unanimous – they don’t want retail pot in Wayland.

A male sophomore said, “I don’t smoke it. I think it’s gross.”

The son of the mom who drove the mini-van said, ”(Marijuana) is addictive. It has a negative side.”

Wayland High senior Dan Lavenson said he doesn’t support retail sales, but he sees the many sides of the debate in town.

Lavenson, 18, said retail sales would bring in a lot of local tax revenue, but it would set a bad example for young people.

It’s wrong to single out marijuana as being bad for the brain, Lavenson said, because alcohol and tobacco are too.

“They’re all bad,” he said.

Town divided

Town Planner Sarkis Sarkisian said Tuesday night’s forum will help the town get a sense of whether residents want retail marijuana sales.

“We want to hear both sides,” Sarkisian said. “The town is so divided.”

The mom who drove the mini-van said she voted against Question 4, and would cast the same vote again.

In the end, she said it comes down to setting a good example for her children.

“Our kids learn by example,” she said.

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