By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard held yet another discussion about marijuana retail shops at its meeting on Monday, 9/10. Several members of the public tried once again to convince the Selectboard to put a question on the ballot asking voters to explicitly support or not support retail sales of recreational marijuana in Fairhaven. The town already has a medical marijuana dispensary.
One change that was noted on Monday is that Fairhaven is automatically allowed three retail shops, not two as previously believed. The formula is based on the number of alcohol licenses a municipality holds.
Gloria McPherson, Director of Planning and Economic Development, told the board that the discussion was just about retail to the public. Other uses, such as on-site consumption (as in a restaurant), or grow operations or testing laboratories are under different licenses.
As it is now, the way the law has been written, there can be no on-site consumption without a positive vote by referendum of the town.
Grow operations and laboratories that do not sell to the public are allowed, but would still need local licensing to operate. There are about 10 different kinds of licenses available and allowed in the state law.
The big fuss, with the vocal folks who have been turning out to meetings, is about the retail operations. They do not want to see “pot shops” in Fairhaven.
Bernard Roderick, who has been outspoken on several occasions, again urged the board to put a ballot question before the voters. He said new information is available now that was not available when the ballot question was passed in November of 2016. Fairhaven voters approved the measure, so the only way to ban pot shops in town, or to lower the number to fewer than three, is by ballot initiative.
Mr. Roderick said that although voters approved legalizing marijuana, they “did not specifically vote to have pot shops in Fairhaven.”
He said much more information has become available and that voters “deserve a second chance.”
“Retail marijuana does not enhance the quality of life in Fairhaven,” said Mr. Roderick. “There is nothing inherently wrong with giving voters a second chance.”
“I never would have voted for it if I’d known what I know now,” said Gary Lavalette.
He said he smells marijuana wherever he goes in town.
The medical marijuana dispensary, Bask, located on Pequod Road, will have priority on any retail operations. President Tim Keogh told the board that his operation is low key. Many residents do not even know it has been operating for more than a year.
He said they have been researching with UMassD about who their patients are, and the benefits of medical marijuana. Mr. Keogh said 73% are using cannabis to replace prescriptions for pain, sleep and anxiety. He said all patients are registered with the state and have medical cards, and have to be 21 or older. The product is extensively tested to be safe. Legalizing marijuana also reduces the criminal operations. He asked the board to move forward, not backwards.
Doug Brady, who has also been outspoken against marijuana noted that medical and recreational are two different things.
“Anybody can buy [it],” acknowledged Mr. Brady, and they can bring it to Fairhaven, but, they do not have to buy it here.
He said that was not on the ballot.
Town Meeting members will be voting on a couple of articles related to recreational marijuana sales at a Special TM in November. The Planning Board has been working on a bylaw to regulate retail shops that TM must approve. TM may also be asked to extend the moratorium, which ends on 12/31/18. If the bylaw does not pass, then the moratorium will be necessary to stop pot shops from opening up until regulations can be adopted. The bylaw will limit retail shops to a specific area of town and impose other restrictions as allowed by the state law.
Other residents spoke against allowing retail shops in town, and complained that smoking is unhealthy and they have been smelling marijuana around town.
Ms. McPherson pointed out that wherever smoking cigarettes is not allowed marijuana smoking is also not allowed.
Planning Board Chairperson Wayne Hayward, who had faced the board at its 8/13 meeting to urge them to put a question on the ballot, did not attend Monday’s meeting.
PB member Cathy Melanson, however, did attend, and noted for the record that Mr. Hayward’s August appearance was without the knowledge of the Planning Board.
She did note that the bylaw was a “living document,” and could be changed as new information arises.
Selectboard chairperson Daniel Freitas said the issue was discussed many times before and that he had not changed his mind. He said he felt that cannabis helps to ease opioid addiction, which is a crisis in this country.
When his parents had cancer, he said, he wished cannabis had been an option for them to ease their suffering.
He also noted that Bask is a quiet operation, and if other places are like that, he is okay with it.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said he was not in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, “but it is here.”
He said banning pot shops in Fairhaven will not stop people from bringing it in. People can grow their own, and there are delivery services.
He said people do have a vote at Town Meeting through their elected TM representatives.
“At this point, the process needs to unfold the way it was meant to be,” said Mr. Espindola.
In the end the board decided not to hold a vote. Residents can put together a citizens petition, but it can only be nonbinding. Only the Selectboard can put a binding referendum on the ballot.
Residents would need to create the language for the ballot, collect signatures of registered voters equal to 10% of voters in the last election, although it is unclear if the primary counts, or if it is only the general.
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