By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Westborough – At the Jan. 10 Westborough Board of Selectmen meeting, the board approved placing a ballot question on the municipal town election ballot to opt out of recreational marijuana sales. It also approved the addition of Article 48 to the Town Meeting warrant which would amend the General Bylaws of Westborough. The election will be held on Tuesday, March 7, while the Town Meeting will be held on Saturday, March 18.
Article 48 states, “all types of marijuana establishments as defined in MGL Ch. 94G, Section 1(j), to include all marijuana cultivators, marijuana testing facilities, marijuana product manufacturers, marijuana retailers or any other types of licensing marijuana related business, shall be prohibited within the Town of Westborough.”
Ballot Question 4, which was on the Nov. 8 election ballot, legalized recreational use and sales of marijuana statewide. The law provides for an opt-out provision which requires towns to amend their bylaws to prohibit non-medical-related marijuana businesses. Although the measure was passed by 54 percent of the state, Westborough was one of the communities that did not have a majority vote for the article. In December, the state legislature voted to delay sales of recreational marijuana for six months. Originally set to begin on Jan. 1, 2018, the new date will be July 1, 2018.
Because of the way that the ballot question was written, requiring that the “voters of the town” decide, Westborough town counsel was consulted regarding whether the opt-out should be voted on at Town Meeting or by ballot at the town’s municipal election in March.
“The confusion is with the term ‘voters’ which implies a ballot vote, but bylaws are not voted by ballot but by Town Meeting,” Town Manager Jim Malloy said. “Town counsel’s recommendation is to use ‘belts and suspenders’ and have it both on the ballot and on the Town Meeting warrant.”
Town counsel also consulted with the attorney general and learned that it not only involved a general bylaw but also a zoning bylaw, Malloy said.
Board of Selectmen Chair Ian Johnson agreed with town counsel.
“It is the safest thing to do and I think that this was the intent of those that wrote the ballot question,” he said. “There are numerous towns out there that are against this and are trying to figure out this opt-out provision.”
School Committee Chair Jody Hensley was in the audience and voiced her thanks to the board for their actions on the opt-out. The board voted 4 to 1 in favor of placing this question on the Town Meeting Warrant and on the town ballot in March.