Group representing Mass municipalities wants local politicians to have the power to ban pot shops
Question 4, the new marijuana law passed by voters in November, gives the public too much freedom. That’s the message relayed by Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
The MMA is a private lobbying group that local officials throughout the state funnel tax dollars into so that it can speak on their behalf. Beckwith told me earlier this year that the organization collects about $1.1 million dollars in membership fees from municipal governments annually.
One of Beckwith’s chief complaints about Question 4 is that it doesn’t allow for what he calls “local control.” Basically, he wants the Legislature to give petty tyrants in local government the power to ban pot shops.
Pols in some municipalities are already looking for ways to limit marijuana sales. In November, Ashland passed a temporary ban on accepting applications for retail shops until either January 2018 or the town passes zoning regulations, whichever comes first. If the town waits to adopt zoning regulations, it could delay the opening of the first shops. Billerica and West Bridgewater are weighing similar moratoriums.
But this isn’t enough for Beckwith. He writes: “The new law prevents cities and towns from making local decisions on whether to allow commercial retail sales in their municipalities … Question 4 makes it impossible for selectmen, mayors, councils or town meetings to make this decision. Instead, communities are only allowed to enact a ban if 10 percent of local residents who voted in the last state election sign a petition to place a question on the ballot, and voters approve the question at a state general election in 2018 or later.”
But Beckwith’s claim, that the law “prevents cities and towns from making local decisions,” isn’t true. As he himself notes, it’s just that voters have to make the decisions, not politicians—which I suppose is bad news for him, since his job is to represent politicians.
Beckwith also complains that “Question 4 includes language that would allow the [state Cannabis Control Commission] to preempt or disallow any local zoning rule, ordinance, or regulation that is inconsistent with their wishes—a concern made even more serious because the ‘advisory board’ in the law is actually a pro-industry panel dominated by commercial marijuana interests.”
However, this is actually promising news. It will hopefully make it more difficult for anti-weed curmudgeons in local government to regulate and zone retail shops out of existence with cries of “Think of the children!” and every other NIMBY cliché you can think of.
At the end of the day, “local control” is still control—and people are sick of being controlled. People are tired of being told they can’t make adult decisions about cannabis, just as they’re permitted to do with alcohol, cigarettes, unhealthy foods, cars, and everything else in life that carries some risk—which is everything.
People would rather run their own lives and give others the liberty to do likewise. That’s the reason Question 4 passed, and it’s the reason people won’t stand for it being undermined by control freaks, local or otherwise.
Andrew Quemere has been making public records requests in Massachusetts for more than a decade. He writes The Mass. Dump Dispatch, a newsletter about public records. Subscribe to read about the latest developments in government transparency. Follow him on Twitter @andrewqmr.