Public weighs in on possible recreational marijuana bylaws in Shrewsbury

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – It was standing room only as the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health met jointly to host a public hearing to gain input from residents on the subject of potential bylaws related to the sale of recreational marijuana. The hearing took place at the BOS regular meeting on Jan. 23 at Town Hall in Shrewsbury.

In the November 8, 2016 general election, Massachusetts voters approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana. But before that was allowed, legislators passed a ruling that would hold off on the sale of recreational marijuana until July 1, 2018 so that they could establish a Cannabis Control Commission to draft guidelines on how it could be sold and how it would be taxed.

Shrewsbury voters did not approve the ballot question. As a result, because of a provision in the law, the town can “opt-out” of allowing the sale of recreational marijuana in the town, if approved by Town Meeting members. Westborough has already taken this step and in fact, was the first community in the commonwealth to do so.

Selectmen Vice Chair Moira Miller presided over the Jan. 23 hearing as Chair John Lebeaux recused himself because of his role as Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. The Cannabis Control Commission is under that department’s  jurisdiction.

“Should the Board of Selectmen ask Town Meeting to consider prohibiting, or regulate recreational marijuana businesses in Shrewsbury?  That is the focus of the hearing this evening,” Miller stated.

“Existing laws now provide cities and towns with the ability to regulate and or restrict the time, place or manner of operating marijuana businesses and limit the number of marijuana establishments…”, Shrewsbury Town Manager Kevin Mizikar noted. His staff is drafting bylaws, both general and zoning for the following scenarios – banning marijuana sales outright; providing regulations should the town not opt out; or adopting a 3 percent sales tax should it be allowed.

“We have three options. One is to do nothing, to allow establishments to locate in Shrewsbury within the current zoning bylaws; the second is to put forward a warrant article for Town Meeting to consider prohibiting recreational marijuana establishments in Shrewsbury or to put forward a warrant article for Town Meeting to regulate marijuana businesses in Shrewsbury,” affirmed Miller.

Lasting well over an hour, 24 concerned citizens spoke out, mostly in opposition to allowing such businesses to operate in town. Some spoke in favor of the regulatory approach.

David Remington was emphatically opposed.

“It’s a violation of federal law and because of that these facilities cannot keep their money in banks and take credit cards…its drug money,” he said.

Remington further argued that he believes the crime rate will increase, property values will go down and any gains made from taxes will be “dwarfed” by the costs to the town.

Nandana Bubber spoke from a health care perspective, noting, “We are in the midst of one of the worst opioid crisis in American history…marijuana impacts brain development, lowers IQ scores, academic retention, social interaction and emotional development.”

Jason Molina stated, “It’s morally the wrong thing to do, increased access means increased consumption.”

Jonathan Winn spoke in favor of allowing the sale of recreational marijuana, noting that he has been in the medical cannabis business for over three years. He cited misconceptions such as its relation to opioids by pointing fingers toward the pharmaceutical industry.

Steve Vigeant, chair of the Shrewsbury Board of Health stated that board was in favor of banning recreational marijuana sales. However, if the town chooses not implement a ban, the board would support regulations.

“We have a sense of the urgency to move forward to get this to Town Meeting to make a decision by the April 1st date,” Miller said, as that is the date that establishments can start applying for licenses to sell marijuana.

The board hopes to make a decision at its Tuesday, Feb. 13 meeting.