Pot Moratoriums Spread as Locals Wrestle with Legal Marijuana

Marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts since 2008 and it was the first state on the East Coast to formally legalize recreational marijuana in November 2016. Medical marijuana was approved in 2012 and the first dispensaries opened in 2015. The expected date for the doors of recreational weed to open to consumers is July 1, 2018, and there is a rush to get all the requirements in place to meet this deadline. Many cities and towns have decisions to make regarding the rules associated with recreational weed implementation and some of these debates can get quite heated. There are a number of things to take into consideration when establishing an infrastructure for marijuana in any region and there are people who want and expect different things.

The Great Marijuana Debate

More than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have imposed bans, moratoriums or other limits on weed shops since voters legalized the drug for recreational use last year, opening up a new battlefront in the debate over legal weed.Nearly two dozen communities north of Boston — including Beverly, Peabody and Gloucester — have temporarily banned pot shops from opening after the July 1, 2018 date set by the Legislature. Others, including Lawrence and Merrimac, have approved outright bans on pot sales. It is up to individual municipalities to decide what they want to do after a state has legalized recreational weed , and completely at their discretion. The only issue is whether or not the local councils are representing the views of the people or their own interested, always subject to influences by larger powers. This is said to be the case in Florida, wherea number of cities have decided to ban medical dispensaries despite widespread approval by the constituency.

There are also a number of concerns. If marijuana is banned in too many locations, it will simply fuel the black market in this area. And as a result, people will move to other areas where marijuana is more easily available. Or else they will simply get marijuana in other locations and bring it to back with them. Either way, a decision to ban marijuana outright instead of putting sensible restrictions on marijuana growth and distribution is incredibly shortsighted. They are getting the worst of all worlds, marijuana will still be a prominent feature but they are effectively voting themselves out of any say in its standard and quality. And they are also losing out on revenue and business for no real reason. An outright ban does not have any basis in logic or reason other than the false belief that communities without marijuana are more upstanding and moral, a conservative ideal that is badly misplaced. According to Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project who helped craft last year’s voter-approved pot law:

“If cannabis isn’t sold by regulated and taxed retailers, it will continue to be sold by criminals who don’t check IDs and don’t care about the safety of their product…The whole intent of the ballot question was to eliminate black market sales. This is totally counterproductive.”

Statewide, 259 cities and towns voted for Question 4, while 91 voted against the measure, according to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. Locally, voters in Salem,Beverly, Swampscott and Gloucester were among those agreeing to legalize recreational marijuana, Peabody and Danvers were among those voting against. Since then about 35 communities have banned retail pot sales, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Another 60 to 70 have imposed moratoriums — some of which will expire at the end of next year — or zoning that limits pot sales, according to pro-marijuana groups. Exactly how many communities are weighing retail bans, or have passed them, isn’t clear. The state doesn’t track local votes of town meetings and city councils, and pot advocates and municipal lobbyists are largely relying on news reports to determine where pot shops won’t be allowed.

Power Disparity

The issue is that many of these bans are being made by a small percentage of voters in certain towns, where there may be a disparity of power. Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said most cities and towns that have imposed temporary bans are awaiting new regulations from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, and they ultimately may allow pot sales once the regulatory structure is in place.Beckwith estimates only about 35 communities have imposed outright bans, and most of those lack the commercial base to attract pot shops. It is a much more mature approach to delay the imposition of marijuana until more information has been gathered as opposed to simply banning marijuana because of traditional values about the ways things should be instead of acknowledging the reality that marijuana is here to stay and has many benefits to local societies and economies. In most cases it is really only serving to disadvantage the local region by delaying instead of being proactive, analyzing the situation and setting sensible policies and guidelines in place. Towns that have decided to proceed aregaining at the expense of towns that delay.

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