Mayor William C. Reichelt has vetoed the Town Council’s ban on recreational marijuana, breathing new life into the possibility of commercial pot facilities opening in West Springfield.
“This is my first veto after 2 1/2 years as your mayor,” said Reichelt, who posted a Facebook video on Friday showing him signing the order to prevent the ban from taking effect.
On June 4, the Town Council voted 8-1 to ban commercial marijuana in West Side, whose citizens rejected the legalization of recreational pot in a 2016 state ballot vote.
But the issue is no longer about legalizing pot — now legal for medical and recreational use and for commercial production and sale in Massachusetts — but rather about sharing a percentage of the profits from recreational marijuana, according to the mayor, who promoted the financial benefits in the weeks leading up to the council’s vote.
Now, the mayor has rejected the council’s rejection, so to speak, hoping to join the dozens of other Massachusetts communities that will benefit from the 6 percent of gross sales that commercial pot retailers are expected to pay to cities and towns that host retail, manufacturing or cultivation facilities.
Reichelt’s veto means the issue will be sent back to the council, which can override the mayor’s action with a two-thirds vote.
“I disagree with the Town Council’s decision to ban all businesses related to commercial marijuana without first properly investigating the impact such a ban will have on our community,” Reichelt said in a June 22 letter to councilors.
Some councilors had requested study sessions and more data to better understand the issue, “but they were ignored,” the mayor said, adding that the council “seemingly rested its decision” on local voters’ rejection of the state ballot vote that legalized recreational pot.
“While the town voted against legalization (6,339 to 5,813), the state voted in favor and the adult use of marijuana is now legal in Massachusetts,” he said. “If the Town Council believes these decisions should be made at the ballot box instead of the legislative dais, then I suggest the Town Council explore options to gauge the interest of all of the voters as to the question now before us.”
Before the council rejected commercial pot earlier this month, the mayor had proposed allowing two such facilities to open in an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city. These two facilities alone would have resulted in at least $1 million in annual tax revenue for the city.
Councilor Sean T. Powers, the only councilor to vote against the ban on June 4, made a motion to continue the public hearing on the issue until Sept. 18 to give the board more time to solicit expert testimony, tour marijuana facilities, and fully consider the potential economic benefits to West Springfield.
“There’s a great chance for us to harness this revenue,” Powers said shortly before the council voted down commercial pot.
Implementing a recreational ban requires a communitywide vote in cities and towns that voted in favor of the state ballot question. But in communities such as West Springfield, where voters rejected legalization, town leaders can impose a ban without polling residents.
“I know I’ve said this over and over again — I sound like a broken record — but the question before us now is no longer, ‘Should we legalize commercial marijuana?’ because it is legal, and as of July 1 you’ll be able to buy it in Massachusetts,” Reichelt said.
“It’s a legal business. Do we want to allow a legal business in West Springfield, like we allow many other legal businesses in West Springfield?” he said.
The mayor said he’s looking forward to discussing the matter further with citizens and the Town Council alike.
“I’m happy to answer questions and, again, help provide the council with any data they need to make the right decision, or the decision that’s in the interest of the whole community,” he said.
Dean Martilli, an anti-pot activist, consultant and self-described “town advocate,” has said West Side voters’ rejection of recreational marijuana at the ballot box should have been the end of the discussion.
“This is a conservative town,” he said in a recent interview with The Republican.
While the political party affiliation of West Side residents is hardly suggestive of their views on recreational drugs, the community has over twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.
Of the 16,656 registered voters in West Side, 4,736 were enrolled as Democrats and 2,313 were enrolled as Republicans as of Feb. 1, 2017, according to the most recent data available from the Elections Division of Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office.
The number of unenrolled voters — 9,322 — is almost double the number of enrolled Democrats in town, which also had 29 enrolled Libertarians as of February 2017.