SHIRLEY -- Over the course of a 2 1/2 hour Special Town Meeting Monday night and after much discussion on the floor, 76 voters determined the fate of potential marijuana businesses that might want to set up shop in town by first rejecting a pair of articles that would have banned them and subsequently accepting a zoning restriction that some said might effectively accomplish the same thing.
The 6-item STM warrant addressed only the marijuana issue, with six articles the Planning Board had worked on since late last fall and voted to forward after a public hearing in January. The board did not take a stand on the issue but wanted voters to decide, Chairman Sara Widing said.
Article 1 asked if voters wanted to prohibit all recreational, or non-medical, marijuana establishments.
Article 2 would have prohibited non-medical retailers only. Each motion required a 2/3 vote to pass. Both
In two procedural moves voters agreed to, Articles 3 and 5 were withdrawn, sent back to the Planning Board to die, at the board's request.
Article 3 called for adopting zoning for medical marijuana treatment centers. The Planning Board had previously said the article was a placeholder in case one or both bans passed. Absent a ban, voters were asked to "pass over" it. The same applied to Article 5, which called for zoning on medical marijuana treatment centers and non-medical establishments. Both "pass over" motions passed.
Article 4 was a different story.
It sparked debate. The main motion passed after Town Moderator Karen Luddington squashed one amendment before it was even proposed and after voters rejected a proposed amendment that called for sending the article back to the Planning Board for a re-do.
Jim Quinty, a School Committee member, disliked a 500-foot buffer provision that was a sticking point for others, too. "I'd like to see it amended to get rid of this," he said.
Luddington ruled it out. It would "expand the zone" set forth in the warrant and would thus be "outside the scope" of the warrant, she said.
Quinty disagreed. All articles are subject to amendments, he said. "We're here...we get to do that."
Not this time. The moderator has the final say and she ruled it out.
The 500-foot buffer that Quinty objected to brought others to the mic as well.
Tim Hatch said it would disqualify as a marijuana facility site almost any area in town currently zoned for commercial or industrial uses, including the industrial zone off Lancaster Road near Route 2.
Others had similar views. Whether by default or by design, enacting this bylaw would be like rolling out a welcome mat for businesses only to pull it back. Not that the town is likely to attract many takers.
John Rounds, who noted that he's been involved with zoning and spoken on zoning issues many times over the years, suggested sending the article back to the Planning Board to fix and submitted an amendment to that end. "A bit of a mess was made" in crafting this article, which was "too restrictive" as written, he said. "Let's not let this ridiculous 500-foot restriction stand." His amendment failed.
Rounds would later switch gears, calling on voters to "pass this puppy" and volunteering to help the Planning Board write up a more acceptable, less restrictive version to be presented at the May 14 annual Town Meeting.
The Planning Board agreed.
Some who favored the article to begin with argued that May might be too late and that doing something, even a flawed zoning law, was better than nothing. In a couple weeks, the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission is expected to finalize its rules and regulations and start accepting applications for licenses to be awarded in April. Absent a town bylaw by then, existing zoning would apply.
"I'd rather have something in place," by then, said Chip Guercio, a longtime former selectman who now chairs the Zoning Board of Appeals. He cited the need to protect the town from liability.
Dueling Views Aired
Lee Mirkovic said he'd heard there were OUI spikes in communities that opened their doors to recreational marijuana sales.
Michael Lopez, a high school teacher who spoke several times and on various articles, said research shows otherwise, citing a Colorado study.
Adele Turnbull said she approves of medical marijuana but opposes recreational facilities in town. Sales to children would be "bad" she said.
Janet Tice, a Planning Board member, pointed out that state law allows recreational marijuana sales only to people over 21. "Not to say minors can't get it, but it's not legal" to sell it to them, she said.
Rae Price noted that the first of the two yes or no questions dealt with lots of things besides stores. Cultivators, labs and other businesses might come in that would benefit the town, she said.
Another resident weighed possible benefits such as added tax revenue versus potential risks to children. "If we lose our kids, it's not worth it," she said
Beth Quinty noted that the school system has a D.A.R.E. Program in place to deal with that issue.
Selectman Chairman Enrico Cappucci, speaking as a citizen and former law enforcement officer, insisted that marijuana is a "gateway drug," same as it was when he walked a beat in Boston."It's a dangerous drug" that young kids will get their hands on. "If you don't think so...think again." he said.
Michael Lopez debunked that notion, citing studies that have proven marijuana is not a gateway drug.
Jim Quinty said that studies cited without a specific source are "anecdotal" in his view. But the question is simple, he said. "Do you want it (marijuana facilities) in town or not?"
Selectman Debra Flagg, a semi-retired ASRSD math teacher, decidedly did not, although she might have been on the fence before. At a previous public forum, speaking from the audience, Flagg said she wouldn't likely oppose marijuana facilities in town, as long as they were not on Main Street. Monday night, she took a harder line. The case she made was brief but it hit home.
"I lost my 23-year-old son three years ago to a drug overdose...I wouldn't want anyone in the world to go through what our family has..." Flagg said. "We do not need recreational sales of drugs here."
A young man who said he didn't drink or use pot himself "but my friends do," said people who want to buy pot can get it, even if they live "in the middle of nowhere." If not here, than in the next town or a few miles away. Besides, he said, alcohol is far worse and is addictive, although pot is not.
Paul Wilson, who served on the School Committee for years, urged people to just say no. "I don't see a revenue stream here," he said. Only a big problem...vote no!"
With two articles shelved, both ban options rejected and a zoning bylaw amendment adopted, that left Article 6, which asked if the town should impose a 3-percent surtax on marijuana sales, in addition to property taxes. The meeting adjourned around 9:30 p.m.