City Council prohibitionists get desperate
Last week, in a 6-5 vote, the Malden City Council passed a non-binding resolve for the city’s Malden Cannabis Licensing and Enforcement Commission (CLEC) to hit “pause on soliciting additional applications for retail marijuana licenses.” Their reasoning: “so that the city can solicit voter feedback at the next municipal election on limits on the number of establishments allowed in the city.”
The state law written on the wings of the successful 2016 legalization initiative requires cities or towns that voted a majority in support of the ballot question to allow a set number of cannabis licenses. In Malden, the prescribed formula would result in five or more adult-use cannabis applicants being licensed. At this point, the city is only legally able to ban or opt out of cannabis licensing by passing a new ballot initiative locally.
To date, Malden has selected two adult-use applicants to proceed with licensing.
The sponsor of the aforementioned resolve, City Councilor Craig Spadafora, said, “A lot of voters didn’t realize there was a number [of designated licenses]. … Whether you want to call them uneducated voters that’s fine, they didn’t understand there was a number tied to the number of alcohol licenses determined by the state by population.”
Speaking against the resolve, City Councilor Amanda Linehan said, “I voted in favor of cannabis as a resident when it was on the ballot and sincerely believe it sets a bad precedent to assume that voters didn’t understand how that ratio would be set or what it was that they were voting on.”
Linehan considered applicants who would be harmed by more delays: “I dont think it’s fair to those that are midway through the process right now to take this step.”
Also coming forward at the hearing, CLEC member Jenelle DeVits said, “Let’s be clear, the resolution before you tonight is asking the [commission] to violate our city ordinance and to shut down our process down all together, because this body or the anti-marijuana residents failed to organize appropriately over the last three-plus years to put a question on the ballot, regarding restrictions on the number of licenses as required by state law.”
DeVits continued: “If there was really such a concern and motivation to elicit feedback from our residents, why did the City Council or these concerned residents fail to put the question before the largest turnout of Malden voters on this year’s presidential ballot or even last year’s mayoral ballot? I hope you all take a pause and ask why now, three years later, there is a push to wait for an off-year election when we all know turnout will be much lower and not representative of the voters citywide. If the City Council wants to properly change our ordinance, there is a legal process to do that, which does not involve a nonbinding resolution directing the CLEC to violate the city’s current ordinance.”
In total, 13 Malden residents offered spoken or written testimony against the resolve. No Malden residents spoke in support of it.
“This would at best support the closure of our process,” said Kimberly Gillette, a Malden resident. “Or at worst protect a monopoly for the only two businesses that made it through the first phase of applications.”
“Trying to direct the CLEC to violate the current ordinance is not appropriate and only raises questions of whether pausing at this junction will be a violation of state law,” DeVits said. “Such a pause may be argued by some to be a de facto ban on additional licenses or may be seen as limiting the number of licenses below five, which we know can only be approved by a majority of Malden residents through a ballot question. While residents had a full three years to get this question on the ballot, that has not happened.”
DeVits added, “I plan to urge the CLEC to keep moving forward with a monthly rolling basis application process per our current city ordinance. That remains unchanged, even in light of the split vote on the non-binding resolution.”