There was an hour of debate. Those for and those against the passage of local bylaws that would ban retail business activities related to recreational marijuana sales and cultivation in Mattapoisett spoke their minds, pleaded their cases.
There was passion. There was opinion. There was data. But when the smoke cleared and the votes carefully counted, Article 1 proposing a new Zoning Bylaw banning “marijuana cultivators, independent testing laboratories, marijuana product manufactures, marijuana retailers of any other types of licensed marijuana related businesses,” passed, as did Article 2, an amendment to the Town’s General Bylaws.
After the formal reading of Article 1 by Planning Board Administrator Mary Crain, Town Moderator John Eklund invited the public to speak their minds. The first to come forward was Elizabeth Sherry opposing the ban.
Sherry quoted various reports and articles citing marijuana’s positive influence in stemming opioid use and its positive impact on those suffering from pain and anxiety.
“In Colorado, deaths from opioids have been reduced by thirty-three percent.” She said the negative language in the article might deter people from exploring the medical benefits of marijuana and passionately stated, “Alcohol and cigarettes are gateway drugs.… You can’t overdose on marijuana.”
Next came George Randall who spearheaded the article banning marijuana. Randall, a lifelong resident of Mattapoisett, spoke to the negative impact marijuana establishments would have on the youth in the community. As he had at prior Planning Board meetings, Randall pointed to claims of rising public safety issues in Colorado since it legalized pot. He likened the legalized sale of recreational marijuana to an increase in school shootings, saying that there would be “dire consequences.” He urged the passage of both articles as he returned to his seat accompanied by a round of applause.
Police Chief Mary Lyons repeated her often heard comments that marijuana establishments in Mattapoisett would require additional police staffing to monitor such businesses. Lyons said taxes collected would go to the state and not to the town, negating any economic advantage Mattapoisett might receive.* She also reminded voters that there was no conclusive sobriety test that police could perform in the field to determine intoxication from pot as there is for alcohol consumption.
Don Bamberger rose to speak against the ban, saying, “Massachusetts has already legalized marijuana so we aren’t going to stop people from this.… Prohibition didn’t stop drinking,” he said. “Booze has killed more people.” He pointed to the industry’s positive economic benefits providing “good jobs” and that taxes collected in Colorado had paid for schools and infrastructure projects to the tune of $247 million. He ended his comments by saying the town should embrace and regulate marijuana locally.
Sandra Dawson also spoke to the economics involving pot sales, but said that only about two percent of all sales would benefit the town and that those taxes had to be used for additional policing and drug related programs.** Dawson was for adoption.
Richard Bates added his voice against Article 1, saying alcohol was readily available and more dangerous than pot, suggesting perhaps next year “…We can pass a bylaw making Mattapoisett a dry town.”
Former Town Administrator Mike Botelho asked for clarification on how federal regulations that still consider marijuana an illegal drug could conflict with local bylaws and how revenue generated from retail sales was handled.
Town Counsel Jonathan Silverstein said marijuana businesses were most likely using credit unions and private equity establishments for the cash-only transactions.
Chief Lyons inserted the theoretical possibility that federal regulations could still be imposed at the local level.
Eklund and Silverstein had earlier in the debate clarified that Articles 1 and 2 were essentially the same, with Article 1 adding a new Zoning Bylaw prohibiting non-medical pot stores and associated businesses, and Article 2 a new Town General Bylaw doing the same, eliminating the need to debate Article 2.
Article 1 passed 183-52, with Article 2 passing 192-53.
The only other article garnering any serious time-consuming debate came from Article 24 for funding to build a dog park.
After Community Preservation Act Committee Chairman John DeCosta gave the annual report, he read Article 24 that would grant $75,000 from the CPA undesignated fund and open space reserve to build a dog park on town-owned property adjacent to the police station and skate park.
Freemin Bauer, an Eagle Scout whose Eagle project was the inspiration for pursuing the construction of a dog park in Mattapoisett, gave a PowerPoint presentation in support of the article that he said would benefit the 900 licensed dog owners in the community.
Bauer’s presentation included the benefits to dogs running off-leash in a controlled space and the opportunity to socialize. He also broke down how the $75,000 would be used to purchase fencing, pea stone, and other materials needed while noting that labor to build the park would be primarily from volunteers – Friends of the Mattapoisett Dog Park. Bauer’s presentation also noted that ongoing fundraising efforts would contribute to maintenance and clean up needed for the park.
But not everyone was barking up the same tree as Bauer.
Grant Johnson spoke first, saying that he had nothing personally against Bauer but felt the project had “real financial implications.”
Reading from a letter he had previous submitted to the Board of Selectmen, Johnson said that some professional dog trainers were against dog parks because it allowed unrestrained dogs to fight and that unless a person knew how to break-up a dogfight, people could be injured. He said studies suggest dog parks should never be located near residential areas.
Selectman Paul Silva said the article was not about where such a park would be located in town, but whether CPA funds would be granted to build one.
Finance Committee Chairman Pat Donoghue said, “I’m concerned about the financial impact.” She said, with so many other needs in town such as senior housing, that a dog park wasn’t something “we really need.” She also said that a recent property acquisition near the police station had an estimated value of $370,000 that should not be wasted on a dog park.
DeCosta clarified that the CPA forwards to Town Meeting grant applications received by the committee, not generated by the committee. He said the committee discussed housing and other already approved projects such as wharf repairs, but that those monies had yet to be used.
But voters were not overwhelmingly in favor of a dog park as many spoke against spending CPA funds in this manner. It seemed like debate would continue, but Paul Osenkowski called to move the question, noting that the hour was getting late and there were still many articles yet to discuss.
The dog park was defeated 94-49.
All other articles on the warrant passed.
As time ebbed away nearing 11:00 pm, the voting majority continued to decrease, yet a hardy number remained to complete the entire warrant of 35 Articles.
Highlights of the warrant also included the passage of Article 4 General Operating Budget, $26,625,233; Article 3 increasing elected officers’ compensation; Article 5 $434,100 appropriation for OPEB liabilities; Article 6 $260,000 for design and costing for a new fire station; Article 29 a new bylaw that establishes a fine for putting snow onto public roadways ($100); and Article 33 that changes the compensation process for the director of the Council on Aging from a step-grade to a contract negotiated performance-based structure.
Editor’s Notes:*Municipalities are allowed to adopt up to a maximum of 3% local sales tax on all recreational marijuana sales [830 CMR 64N.1.1 Marijuana Retail Taxes section 2(b)]. **Marijuana establishments must enter into a “Host Community Agreement” with the municipality, which may impose a “community impact fee” of up to 3% of gross sales (separate from the 3% local sales tax) “…as long as the fee is reasonably related to real costs imposed on the municipality due to the establishment…operating there.” (Chapter 334 of the Acts of 2016 and Chapter 55 of the acts of 2017, and as described on page 9 of the Cannabis Control Commission’s Guidance for Municipalities Regarding Marijuana for Adult Use.)
Mattapoisett Annual Town Meeting
By Marilou Newell