MA: Whitman Set For March Vote On Marijuana Ban

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The town may become the latest community in the Brockton area to join the growing chorus taking steps to place limits on newly legal recreational marijuana establishments setting up shop in town.

During a special election March 17, voters will be asked to approve an outright ban on all recreational marijuana business in town. The ban would amend the town’s zoning bylaws to outlaw “cultivators, independent testing laboratories, marijuana product manufacturers, marijuana retailers and any other types of licensed marijuana‐related businesses.”

The ban would not affect medical marijuana operations.

The last day to register to vote in the special election is Friday by 8 p.m., and absentee ballots are due by March 16 at noon.

Town Administrator Frank Lynam said the vote is designed to clarify to what extent town residents voted in 2016 to legalize marijuana so that users would not risk having a criminal record for possessing it and to what extent they wanted it to be publicly accessible.

“It really wasn’t clear, certainly not to me or others, as to whether that vote was taken to decriminalize it or to bring it into public availability. I’ve had people say, ‘I voted to decriminalize it, but I don’t want it being sold in my neighborhood,’ ” he said. “I think that’s a decision that needs to be made very specifically.”

If the ban passes, Whitman would join Bridgewater, Stoughton and Raynham in barring such establishments in town. East Bridgewater is set to vote on a ban in April. Other towns, including Abington, West Bridgewater and Easton have imposed temporary moratoriums while they study the issue further.

Meanwhile, Brockton’s health board and administration has begun discussing the introduction of retail marijuana stores in the city amid a temporary moratorium.

Applications for such shops are expected to be available by April, and sales are set to begin in July. The Cannabis Control Commission, the state regulatory body charged with rolling out the new marijuana law, has released hundreds of page of draft regulations and is expected to finalize those rules this spring.

Massachusetts voters approved legalizing marijuana by ballot referendum during the 2016 general election by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent. The state previously decriminalized possession of small amounts of the substance in 2008 and legalized it for medical use in 2012.

Most of the towns that voted against the question were concentrated on the outskirts of Boston, Worcester and Springfield, on a patch of the South Shore and on the portion of Cape Cod that stretches from Bourne to Orleans.

The 2016 election also sent President Donald Trump to the White House, and with him, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who last month rolled back an Obama-era directive instructing the Justice Department to take a hands-off approach to states where recreational marijuana has been legalized.

Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, a Sharon resident, in the days that followed the pivot indicated that he would “aggressively prosecute” federal marijuana crimes, but assured the focus would remain on bulk traffickers, criminal gangs and those who use the federal banking system illegally, not organizations acting within state regulatory frameworks.

He noted “prosecutorial discretion” would be exercised in each case. Still, in late January, he told the press he wouldn’t entirely rule out going after those engaged in state-sanctioned sales or using the federal banking system.

The drug is still illegal at the federal level and is scheduled alongside the most dangerous illicit substances.