On December 11, residents attended a special meeting of the Mattapoisett Planning Board to publically discuss the Town’s options regarding recreational marijuana regulations.
Police Chief Mary Lyons, Fire Chief Andrew Murray, Public Health Nurse Amada Stone, Selectman Tyler Macallister, and Town Administrator Michael Gagne joined the Planning Board.
As the clock ticks down on a March 15, 2018 deadline – a date that will see the roll-out of state regulations and guidelines crafted by the Cannabis Control Commission – cities and towns throughout the state will either open for business, or have further time if a moratorium is adopted in time.
Conservative, yet energized Mattapoisett residents came out in numbers to add their voices to the discussion regarding what Mattapoisett should do now.
On November 8, 2016 Mattapoisett voters were split nearly 50-50 with a count of 2,200 against legalizing the sale of marijuana and 2,073 in favor.
On this night, not much had changed.
An attorney on the Town’s legal counsel, Katherine Laughman, gave a presentation that mapped out where the state’s regulations – or lack thereof – stood at this point in time, and what residents could anticipate in the coming months.
Laughman said that in July the governor had signed “An Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana” (Chapter 55) and that a Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) was established to develop state regulations covering everything from personal use, cultivation, and enforcement to guidelines for local controls.
The Planning Board is seeking to understand what, if any, local controls the residents desire. And given the short window between July 2017 and implementation in March 2018, closely followed by an April 1 acceptance of applications by the CCC for recreational marijuana licenses, the Planning Board members are eager to hear all sides.
Before public comment, Chairman Thomas Tucker read a letter into the minutes from Director of Inspectional Services Andy Bobola. In his letter to the Planning Board, Bobola reminded them that when an “adult” materials store sought to open in Mattapoisett, resident opposition was strong. He urged the board to seek a moratorium.
Bobola’s sentiments would be echoed throughout the balance of the evening, regardless of whether the person speaking was for or against allowing the contentious business model to come to Mattapoisett.
As Tucker opened the meeting for public comment, initially the silence was deafening. But it wasn’t long before things fired up as residents stood to be heard.
“I’m confused,” said Steve Rule. He asked Laughman if federal prohibitions wouldn’t supercede state legalizations.
“The federal position had been non-enforcement,” Laughman replied.
Tucker said public participation now would help to establish local regulations, adding, “We don’t want to have this conversation on Town Meeting floor.”
Resident Kathleen DeMello asked, “How is it going to be regulated … can we go to 7-11?”
Laughman reiterated that state regulations would prohibit sales outside of licensed establishments.
Don Bamberger asked, in response to concerns aired that children would have greater access to pot if businesses were opened in town, “Anyone have kids in school?”
“They’re exposed to it!” said Bamberger. “Embrace it, get tax revenue, control it.” He added that even the well-known conservative, the late William F. Buckley, was a proponent of legalization based on positive financial implications.
Randy Smith said, “I am completely opposed to what he said.”
Gagne said residents could call for a special town meeting before the April deadline.
“It would be a zoning bylaw,” Gagne said. “You’d have two public meetings.” He said the meetings would allow the Planning Board to hear from all residents before writing bylaws.
Gagne said, after that process, articles for a special town meeting warrant would be written and, if approved, the articles would advance to the Attorney General’s Office for final adoption. “After that, the Planning Board can put forth a zoning bylaw.”
Laughman said a moratorium, if adopted, would end on December 31, 2019, giving the town at least some time to write bylaws that would cover “time, place, and manner” for commercial establishments.
Resident John DeMello said, “Someone should look at what happened in Colorado.” He said drug cartels were still in the marijuana business by simply doing what retailers do all the time to compete: “They cut their prices.”
DeMello added, since any retail of pot would be a “cash-only” business, tracking the collection of taxes imposed upon sales would be impossible.
Concerns over the impact of legal marijuana on children continued.
“Teachers spend a large percentage of their day telling students to stop bullying and stay away from drugs,” said Cary Tucker. “Let’s keep kids first and think long and hard about that.… Teachers have a hard job already.” A job, she said, that would be made more difficult with stoned students.
Steve Griffin countered, saying, “A moratorium might make a lot of sense, but this is not for kids. Liquor is the gateway drug and far more of a danger to kids… This is not for kids,” he said, referring to the age 21 restriction planned for retail sales. Griffin added, “Anyone can grow it.”
Karen Hay stated, “Prohibition didn’t work … Reagan’s war on drugs didn’t work … Legalize it, control it, tax it, you’re not going to stop it.”
Liz Brown agreed, saying, “Retail sales are going to be here, why not tax it?” She added that they still had not talked about agriculture.
Laughman said residents over 21 were allowed to cultivate six plants for personal use, but that residents could not invoke current agricultural regulations to the growing of marijuana –that will not be permitted, she said.
Before adjourning, Tucker asked the panel to add it’s comments to the mix, with Tucker first expressing his own fear.
“I get [drug] tested once a month,” Tucker said. “I’m petrified someone is going to give me a brownie…. Then that’s my job – gone.”
Macallister said, “I’m here to listen and try my best to execute the will of the town … I hope the Planning Board does go for a moratorium.”
Stone said she is working with the school district on the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition, and that issue and many others were being addressed. She urged the community to “proceed with caution.”
Murray said he supported a moratorium that would allow the Town to approach the matter the right way, but professionally he was “neutral” on the topic.
Planning Board member Nathan Ketchel said, “I’d rather approach this scientifically… We need to work with facts and stats.”
Planning Board member Karen Field said she works in the medical industry, specifically with those suffering from respiratory issues. She was for a moratorium.
Planning Board member Gail Carlson pointedly stated, “I fully support a moratorium,” as did fellow board member Janice Robbins.
Gagne said it seemed that, once again, the state was putting laws in place before it was ready. He said that the state “had its head in the sand,” and that he is concerned about the lack of field sobriety tests for marijuana intoxication. Gagne also stated that state oversight of alcohol licenses was problematic, and he worried the same would hold true for marijuana.
“The Commonwealth should take a breath,” said Gagne. “They are rushing too fast.”
Lyons, who throughout the evening had voiced her concerns about enforcement, public safety, and costs to the town, said, “The right thing to do is to have a moratorium.”
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Planning Board is scheduled for December 18 at 7:00 pm in the town hall conference room.
Mattapoisett Planning Board
By Marilou Newell