In this post, I cover three things:
In a 2016 referendum, Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana (details on what that means here). The Newton vote was 55 percent in favor and 44 percent against. Because Newton voters favored legalization, Newton’s government cannot ban the sale, cultivation, testing, or processing of cannabis without a local referendum approving such a ban.
Also according to the law, Newton will have to allow at least 7, maybe 8 retail outlets for recreational marijuana (the uncertainty is due to regulations not being final). These can’t be located within 500 feet of a childcare center or school for grades K-12 unless City Council votes to change that. If, as may be the case, so few suitable retail locations are far enough from schools and daycares that all 7 or 8 retail marijuana stores are concentrated in one area of Newton, City Council may wish to reduce the “buffer zone.”
Possession of up to 1 oz. and growing up to 10 oz. of marijuana is already legal as of December 2016. Delivery services can start operations in July 2018.
But while applications for retail locations can begin April 1, and sales in retail locations can begin in July, the state’s regulations won’t be final until March 15. That makes it difficult for City staff, who are already stretched thin with work on Zoning Redesign, the Needham Street Visioning and other City priorities, to act quickly.
The role of Newton’s City Council
There are two parts of the state law that need or could involve City Council action: adopting the local sales tax option on cannabis, and zoning for the industry.
City Council is docketing the sales tax in time for July 1 implementation.
On February 12, the Zoning and Planning committee took up the question of whether to put a temporary moratorium on recreational cannabis licenses to allow City staff time to work on zoning regulations.
Despite the state not having regulations out, some cities, like Salem, have gone ahead and adopted zoning, but they do so at the risk of having to revisit these ordinances after the regulations are final.
Because of this, most of our neighboring communities have already passed temporary moratoria. Brookline will vote on zoning for recreational marijuana at Town Meeting in May, and then will lift its moratorium.
Arguments for a moratorium include:
I personally prefer to see marijuana taxed, tested and regulated rather than have City Council try to ban it.
I am co-docketing the adoption of the recreational marijuana sales tax. I think Newton should benefit to the maximum possible from recreational sales.
As for the moratorium—I’m planning to vote for it, with an exemption for Garden Remedies.
I don’t think adding time and expense to opening stores serves the public good—marijuana will be sold in neighboring communities. In those states that already have legal marijuana widely available, the price drops, crime drops, opioid deaths drop and sales tax revenue rises. I do not want to harm current businesses by temporarily preventing them from expanding into the recreational market while their competition ramps up. I don’t want to lose potential revenue for the city.
However, I see good reason to ensure that Newton is following state law and has enough locations for at least the minimum required number of stores. We may not want to see a “cannabis row” in any one village. And we may need to reduce the buffer zone.
And there are other marijuana uses that I haven’t really addressed, but which Newton may want to zone for: cultivation, processing, testing, on-site consumption in cafes, yoga studios, cinemas, etc.
Given the above, what do you think?