Prohibition of Recreational Marijuana Facilities

In my fourth year on the Board of Selectmen, I served as Chair for the first time, and just in time to preside over one of the more volatile issues in recent Town history: the prohibition of recreational marijuana facilities.

In November 2016 the State Election featured a ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana use and to permit licensed facilities for retail, wholesale, cultivation, and testing. Although the question passed state-wide, it was opposed in Northborough by a very slim margin.

The law was written such that, if a community took no action in its bylaws to prohibit or regulate marijuana facilities, those facilities would be permitted with little to no restriction. At the following Town Meeting in April 2017, Northborough imposed a moratorium on recreational marijuana facilities through end of June 2018, allowing a year to understand the law and the yet-to-be-written regulations, and to craft a suitable local bylaw for Town Meeting in 2018, prior to the end of the moratorium.

In late summer / early fall of 2017, this happened:

  • A person made a claim on social media that he was going to open a marijuana paraphernalia shop in Northborough.
  • An assistant state attorney general made a careless statement in public to suggest that a moratorium might not hold beyond the April 1 2018 date at which licensing of marijuana facilities would commence.
  • A group of concerned citizens formed Northborough Opt Out to advocate for prohibition.
  • The Planning Board met (I was in attendance) and its members discussed the issue, but they were collectively indecisive (angering the Northborough Opt Out group), and indicated they would like to understand the direction of the Board of Selectmen.
  • I was added to Northborough Opt Out’s Facebook group. Because, if a member of the group invited another of their Facebook friends, that friend was automatically added as a member of the group, without confirmation from the invitee. So there I was. Certainly an effective way to conscript a large following quickly.

In my only post to the Northborough Opt Out group:

  • I alerted the group that a Selectman had been added involuntarily.
  • I clarified that my presence represented neither support nor opposition.
  • I explained that I would not be participating, so as not to be in violation of the Open Meeting Law by discussing a matter within the jurisdiction of the Selectmen and potentially in view of a quorum of the Board, thus “deliberation”, outside of a posted public meeting.
  • I cautioned other members of Town Boards who might be in the group to exercise the same restraint, so as not to risk invalidating any official action they might take as a board or committee member.
  • I stated that I had been present at the Planning Board meeting and understood their frustration.
  • I stated that at the upcoming Selectmen meeting on October 16 2017, I would drive the discussion and ask the Board members to each clearly state their position.
  • I asked Northborough Opt Out to wait for that meeting’s outcome before proceeding with more direct action (such as hastily petitioning for an immediate Special Town Meeting and hastily enacting a hastily written prohibition bylaw).

They did (wait), and I did (drive the discussion), and the Selectmen did (unanimously express support for prohibition).

The Selectmen gave assurance that they would act to call a Special Town Meeting if circumstances changed and earlier action was really required; but otherwise expected to remain on a path for bylaw articles to be crafted with as full and complete understanding of the state regulations as they evolved, and consider those proposed bylaws at Annual Town Meeting in late April under the protection of the moratorium, which Town Counsel advised would hold.

In the ensuing months, I followed the progress of the Cannabis Control Commission, the state agency created to develop the regulations and oversee licensing. I gave status in my Selectmen meeting reports about that progress. The Selectmen drafted a general bylaw for prohibition. The Planning Board, direction in hand, drafted two zoning bylaws, one for prohibition and one for regulated operation, a contingency if the prohibition article did not pass.

I indirectly broke my promise not to post again on Northborough Opt Out: another member’s post of a status update about the state agency’s goings-on was taken almost verbatim from an email I sent to him about it.

The moratorium held.

Annual Town Meeting was held.

Prohibition bylaws were passed.

This is the clip of me speaking in favor of prohibition at Town Meeting.

We’re all just speaking to hear ourselves talk. As I say early in the clip: everyone in the room already knows how they’re going to vote. Nobody is changing anybody else’s mind.

Credit Northborough Opt Out for putting enough people in the room to pass the prohibition bylaws.

Probably best not to talk about reconsideration.