By Beth David, Editor
About 30 people showed up to a public forum to give their input on regulating recreational retail sales of marijuana, or possibly instituting an outright ban, held by the Fairhaven Selectboard on Monday, 2/5, in the Town Hall auditorium. Mostly residents, but a few non-residents who otherwise have a stake in the outcome, voiced a mixed bag, with those against citing addiction and the scourge of drugs on youth; and those in favor citing the pro-marijuana vote from 2016 and the medical benefits of the drug.
There was also a contention by some that voters who approved legalizing marijuana at the ballot box did not realize what they voted for, i.e., retail sales in their own community.
Town Counsel Thomas Crotty explained that the Marijuana Advisory Committee wanted input from the community on what residents would like to see in town. He said he did not want to get “into the weeds,” or the details of procedures, but it was unavoidable.
Because the town voted to approve recreational marijuana in the election in 2016, the town must hold a town-wide vote if it wants to ban all recreational sales in Fairhaven. If it passes at the ballot box, then Town Meeting will also have to vote for it.
The town can, however, put regulations in place, such as where retail shops can be located, if the town wants to allow on-site consumption, such as in restaurants, bars, or pot cafes, etc.
As of now, the town has a moratorium in place until December 31, to allow the town to adopt regulations. According to the state’s formula, the town can have up to four shops in town, according to Mr. Crotty.
Mark Riley, who owns Fairhaven Wine and Spirits, did not give an opinion on if the town should allow retail sales. He did, however, ask that a single entity be responsible for enforcement of regulations, instead of the mix of enforcement authorities that Mr. Crotty outlined involving the building department, health department and selectboard.
Resident John Pond told the board that his family had personal experience with the dangers of marijuana. He said the board should put the question on the ballot. He said he believed people would vote “no” to retail shops in Fairhaven if they realized how dangerous the drug is and how addictive it is. He said it is 20-30% stronger now than 40 years ago.
“It’s poisonous stuff,” said Mr. Pond, adding that if people were really concerned about their neighbors they would, “Keep this poison out of our town.”
Mr. Crotty said that if the residents wanted to ban shops in Fairhaven they can. But they cannot ban personal use.
Residents also asked about the revenue generating aspects of the law. If a retail shop is located in town, then the town can institute a 3% local tax on sales that would go to the town. Added to a host community agreement, that could raise to 6%.
Karen Vilandry told the board that she personally had been exposed to toxic chemicals that affected her in a number of ways. She said young people do not understand, long term, what happens to the human body when exposed to chemicals. She said she had no problem with medical marijuana because distribution is under the care of a medical doctor.
She also said that marijuana is produced with pesticides and fungicides and other toxic chemicals, a contention that was later disputed by those in the industry who also spoke at the forum.
Ms. Vilandry said even household garbage is toxic when it is burned.
“That’s how I’m looking at it as a community,” she said, and made a plea to ban all recreational sales in town.
Mr. Crotty noted that wherever cigarette smoking is prohibited, marijuana smoking would also be prohibited.
Hans Doherty of Growing in Health, a company that helps patients get medical marijuana, including getting the required state ID card, said most people do not want to smoke cannabis. He said most people want edibles, or a liquid, or even to rub it on the skin. He said the growers he knows do not use chemicals to grow cannabis.
Mr. Doherty said he sees the benefits of medical marijuana every day, and hoped to “dispel fear.” He also said there is a lot of tax revenue to be had from both medical and recreational marijuana sales.
Ms. Vilandry countered that the FDA was not regulating cannabis and said teachers will not be able to teach students who are high, and asked if the town can afford to hire a lot more police officers to “babysit” retailers. She also brought up the use of human waste as fertilizer in China, although it was unclear if she meant to grow cannabis or another product.
“These things are real,” said Ms. Vilandry. “You can’t control how these things are grown. You can’t.”
Another woman addressed the contention that people can simply grow their own so a retail shop is not necessary.
“I can grow lettuce, or I can go to the store,” she said, adding that if the town prohibits retail sales it is missing an opportunity for taxes. She called for people to get the state of Massachusetts out of the dark.
Bernard “Bernie” Roderick, a former Fairhaven superintendent of schools, spoke against retail sales. He said that people who voted for legalization did not realize the ramifications.
He also said cannabis is “far more powerful” than in the 60s and 70s, when he ran anti-drug programs in the schools, and noted that the government still spends millions on anti-drug programs.
“Don’t feed the beast on the other end,” said Mr. Roderick. “Do we know what the hell we’re doing?”
He called drugs a “terrible scourge,” said police have no sobriety test for cannabis, and that although the town cannot control what other places do, they can control what happens in Fairhaven.
“Don’t let Fairhaven lose its moral compass,” said Mr. Roderick, causing some people to clap.
Later in the evening he said: “Do we want to sell the future of this town and the children of this town for a few pieces of silver?”
Tim Keogh, who runs BASK, the company that is about to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Fairhaven, tried to assure people with some facts about regulations in Mass. He said the state has one of the highest standards for testing and that no pesticides or chemicals are allowed. The product is also tested for many other factors, such as mold, yeast and heavy metals.
Mr. Keogh also said it was not easy to get licensed to sell either medical or recreational cannabis in Mass., so there would not be hundreds of applicants popping up overnight.
According to state regulations, he would have priority in Fairhaven for recreational retail sales because he already operates a medical marijuana dispensary in town.
“It’s a slow, deliberate process. And I’m proud to be part of it,” said Mr. Keogh, who also drew applause for his comment.
Shane Sher said the fear talk was “ridiculous” and made marijuana “the most radioactive bogeyman I’ve ever seen.”
He said all the anecdotal talk was not science and had nothing to do with the facts. He said use of cannabis helps with opioid addiction.
Mr. Sher also said that getting a medical marijuana card costs hundreds of dollars and requires a person to be registered with the state. He said not everyone who could benefit medically from cannabis wants to be registered.
Outlawing cannabis, “drives it underground to a place we do not want,” he said.
“We want to regulate it, and we want to control the product,” said Mr. Sher.
In the end the board voted to hold an extra meeting on Monday, 2/12, to decide if they want to put the issue on the ballot. The deadline is tight to submit a question to the state.
Residents are encouraged to fill out a survey available on the town’s website at https://www.fairhaven-ma.gov/. Click on the red bar to complete the survey online, or call the Selectboard at 508-979-4023, ext. 2, to get a paper copy. Surveys must be completed by noon on 2/12.
In another matter, the board held the line against Fairhaven Getty, denying a request by the owner for a waiver to keep more cars at the property than he is licensed for.
Hateem “Tim” El Rifai told the board he needed 30 days to remove more than 20 cars to get down to the 31 cars he is licensed for.
Town Administrator Mark Rees told the board that Mr. Rifai said he needed the extra time because he is working on getting an additional property outside Fairhaven to store cars, but the deal had not gone through yet. Mr. Rees also told the board that in addition to having 55 cars on the lot, Mr. El Rifai had several other violations, such as blocking fire lanes and parking cars on Grinnell Street.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas said he looked at the property and the lot was “packed tight” with cars, especially along the building. He said if there was a fire, the fire truck would have to work from Route 6 because 10 cars would have to be removed from the fire lane before it could get close. He suggested a seven-day order for the cars to be removed.
“I’m prone to say ‘no’ at this point,” said Mr. Freitas, adding that it was a dangerous situation on Grinnell Street because emergency vehicles cannot make it down the road with the extra cars.
Selectboard member Charles Murphy, Sr., said he was more inclined to give Mr. El Rifai seven days to clear out the safety zone, but to give him the 30 days he needs to remove all the cars.
Selectboard Chairperson Bob Espindola said he could understand if the business had a few extra cars, but 24 was 77% over. He noted that Mr. El Rifai had been notified that he was out of compliance before.
Mr. Espindola said it was “troubling,” to hear that the business was out of compliance again and said 77% was a “blatant disregard” of the licensing requirements.
Mr. Espindola said he was not in favor of granting the 30 day request, but instead wanted to require the business to immediately fix the safety issues, and remove all the extra cars in seven days.
Mr. El Rifai said it was not really that many cars, that many of the cars were his customers and he did not want to turn customers away.
Mr. Espindola countered that it was Mr. El Rifai’s responsibility to factor in the number of cars that would be in and out daily.
“I never refuse business,” said Mr. El Rifai, and again asked for the 30 days.
“The problem is, there are a lot of cars there,” said Mr. Freitas. “You put cars on Grinnell Street.”
He added that if they allow for 30 days and there is an emergency during that time the fire department would “have to stage on Route 6.”
He said he would vote for seven days. Mr. Murphy tried for a compromise, suggesting two weeks.
In the end the board voted to make Mr. El Rifai immediately remove the cars in the safety zones, and gave him seven days to remove the others. The vote passed 2-1, with Mr. Murphy opposed.
In a separate agenda item, Mr. Keogh sent a letter to the board saying that “Coastal Compassion,” the name of his company operating the Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD) in Fairhaven, had changed its name to BASK.
He told the board that his RMD was ready to start selling medical marijuana in just a matter of days. He said he was opting for soft opening, instead of a grand splash, to be able to work out any logistical issues at the site, which is in the former Lottery building on Pequod Road.
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Click here to download the entire 2/8/18 issue: 02-08-18 MarijuanaForum