By Beth David, Editor
After deciding months ago not to put the recreational marijuana question to a townwide vote, the Fairhaven Selectboard again faced the question at its meeting on 8/13/18, when Planning Board Chairperson Wayne Hayward addressed the board looking for direction on how his board should proceed with regulations.
The state of Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana in a statewide referendum vote in 2016. Voters in Fairhaven supported legalization, 4673, to 3793.
According to state regulations, the town cannot ban pot shops in town unless it holds a townwide vote. The town is automatically allowed a minimum of two recreational marijuana retail outlets. If the town wants to ban the shops altogether or limit them to fewer than two, then a townwide vote must be held.
The town can cap the number at two, and can impose a variety of other regulations, including zoning regulations, such as where they can be located, without a townwide vote.
Fairhaven passed a moratorium on all recreational marijuana facilities until 12/31/18, to give the town time to craft regulations. The PB is the board responsible for creating those regulations, which are supposed to include public hearings. Then they must be approved by Town Meeting. A Special Town Meeting has been scheduled for November.
Fairhaven already has a registered medical marijuana dispensary (RMD) operating in town. That facility has preference, by state law, to sell recreational marijuana in town. When that facility was licensed, a medical marijuana overlay district was created in the industrial zone on Alden Road, near Bridge Street.
Mr. Hayward said that his board has been discussing regulations, but he felt they needed input from the “town fathers” on how they should proceed.
Mr. Hayward said he was looking for updates on where the Selectboard stood on instituting a possible ban, saying it would “greatly help the Planning Board.”
Selectboard member Charles Murphy said he thought the matter was settled, that the board had decided in a public meeting vote, not to try to ban pot shops in Fairhaven. He cited a survey the town took, the ballot question, and public hearings where, he said, the board heard from a number of residents with a lot of varying opinions.
Mr. Hayward, however, pressed the issue, saying that the PB could not submit the ballot vote, only the Selectboard could.
Mr. Hayward said that he felt residents did not know what they were voting for. He said he thought the language was not clear. He also noted that the governor, the mayor of Boston, and medical professionals were all “strongly against” legalization. He said he understood there would be sales tax revenue from it.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola, said he would like to see if the town can get the question on the November ballot, to save money, instead of holding a special election.
Selectboard chairperson Daniel Freitas said he agreed that she has heard stories that people can smell pot in the street now that it is decriminalized. But, he said, people want it.
“I don’t smoke it, so I don’t care, said Mr. Freitas, and noted that the law prevents anyone younger than 21 from buying it, something he does care about. “I personally don’t care if it’s on the ballot.”
Mr. Hayward said that New Bedford was looking at the revenue and did not do much in the way of regulations.
“We’re looking at tons and tons and tons of marijuana. What could go wrong with that, right?” he said.
Mr. Freitas noted that it was limited to two in Fairhaven. Mr. Hayward said it was not limited, that they would have to draft the bylaw to limit it. The two shops are a minimum.
Mr. Freitas noted that Bask, the existing RMD, has a nice quiet operation, with no one smoking outside or causing trouble. If “we keep it ike that,” he said, he is fine with it.
He does not want to see “neon flashing lights,” but likes a “nondescript” low key operation.
“As long as it’s not sold to kids,” said Mr. Freitas. “I think we voted enough.”
The discussion went round and round with Mr. Hayward still trying to get the board to support a ballot question, even though two of the three members, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Freitas seemed disinclined to do so.
Mr. Freitas suggested that they get Town Counsel Thomas Crotty in at another meeting to discuss it, admitting that the last time he was there, the conversation was very confusing.
Mr. Hayward said the PB will hold public hearings, but he wanted to know what they. as the “town fathers.” wanted to do, using the expression at least several times.
Mr. Espindola reminded everyone that he voted against pot shops and so he was more inclined to put it to a townwide vote.
Gloria McPherson, the town’s Director of Planning and Economic Development, jumped in and said the whole discussion about a ballot question was a “red herring,” because it may or may not pass.
The PB will still have to come up with regulations by the end of the year.
It is not a “red herring,” insisted Mr. Hayward, at which point it seemed to observers that an old argument was being aired in a wider arena.
Notably, no other Planning Board members attended the meeting.
Somehow, Mr. Hayward, in a rather long and disjointed diatribe, managed to bring up the Wind Turbine debates.
“What could go wrong? Well, things can go wrong,” he said.
Mr. Murphy seemed to be losing patience with the circular direction of the never-ending discussion. He said the Board of Health, Town Counsel and other officials did a lot of work and that Ms. McPherson did a great job getting information together.
He said the zone with medical marijuana was already established, but he did have a question about edibles at restaurants, and especially restaurants that serve alcohol.
Mr. McPherson said that would be separate use that would be addressed in a bylaw.
She said that if a specific use is not named as allowed in the bylaw, then the assumption is that it is not allowed, not the other way around.
Mr. Hayward noted that some other area towns have banned the shops, but New Bedford is allowing it. The Fairhaven Board of Health is working on regulations.
“The question is what does the community want,” said Mr. Hayward.
Mr. Espindola noted that those communities voted against recreational marijuana, but Fairhaven voted for it.
Mr. Hayward repeated his assertion that most people “on the street’ did not necessarily vote to have a pot shop in their town, and did not vote for all the uses.
“There are a dozen definitions,” said Ms. McPherson, regarding growers, and delivery businesses, retail sales, etc.
She said the only one they were talking about was retail sales. She said there was no reason to have all that on a ballot initiative unless it was a for a positive reason, such as to allow a certain use.
She also said that deliver services might be banned in Fairhaven, but that would not stop a New Bedford deliver service from coming to Fairhaven to deliver.
“It’s a community issue,” Mr. Hayward, clearly willing to continue the discussion into the night.
But Mr. Freitas halted discussion on it, saying they were just going in circles. He said he will put the issue on the agenda of the next meeting and the board will decide then whether or not to put the question on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the PB should go forward with drafting bylaws to regulate recreational marijuana in Fairhaven.
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