The issue of whether to allow recreational marijuana businesses to town will be put to Town Meeting voters next week.
The articles, presented by the Planning Board after several public hearings and discussions, have generated heated debate from those in support of and opposed to retail marijuana business in Scituate.
“We wanted to make these zoning bylaws very specific because we’re sensitive to the town, and the issues at hand,” said Patricia Lambert, vice chair of the Planning Board. “We understand this is a very emotional issue for people. We took input from the police chief, the church, from Scituate FACTS, and all concerned citizens at public hearings. Everyone who wanted to be heard was heard.”
Lambert said the Planning Board’s responsibility is to look at where the best legal land use for a business would be, not what kind of business it is.
“The Planning Board also does not ask anybody starting a business in town how much money they would be bringing to the town.”
Scituate voted three times against marijuana establishments: twice as a temporary moratorium via a zoning bylaw amendment, and most recently in 2018 via a general bylaw amendment to prohibit marijuana establishments. Scituate also voted against legalizing marijuana on the 2016 ballot initiative.
Article 20 is a zoning bylaw amendment referring to medical marijuana establishments.
“Towns cannot ban medical marijuana,” Lambert said. “All this article does is update the terminology from ‘Registered Marijuana 58 Dispensary’ to ‘Medical Marijuana Treatment Center.”
Article 21 asks voters to approve adding a new section to the bylaws allowing adult use marijuana establishments.
Marijuana establishments are not allowed in residential districts; or within 500 feet of a public or private school, a daycare or preschool licensed by the Mass. Department of Early Education and Care; any religious educational facility; or any addiction treatment or recovery center.
“All schools, playgrounds, ballfields, are located in residential areas, except for a playground in North Scituate, so these establishments would not be able to be located near those areas,” Lambert said.
Currently, there could be two marijuana retail businesses in Scituate.
Under this article, allowable marijuana businesses would include courier, cultivator, delivery operator, product manufacturer, testing facility, transporter, craft marijuana cooperative and research facility, all requiring a special permit.
“Every single business that comes to town regarding cannabis has to be awarded a Host Community Agreement from the Select Board,” Lambert said.
Article 22, a zoning bylaw amendment, lifts the temporary moratorium on the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana that has already expired.
Approval of Article 23, a zoning bylaw amendment, would lift the prohibition of marijuana establishments, Lambert said, and allow the Planning Board to site cannabis establishments in town.
Article 24 gives the town the authority to set and collect a 3% excise tax on marijuana businesses.
Article 25 asks Town Meeting members to remove the prohibition of marijuana establishments from the general bylaws.
“A simple way to look at it, in my own opinion, is if you want marijuana business in town, vote ‘yes’ on all the articles. If you don’t want marijuana business in town, vote ‘no’ on all the articles,” Lambert said.
Keith Saunders, a Scituate native, began focusing on marijuana policy reform in the late 1990s.
“I am in favor of zoning for cannabis businesses because I am in favor of Scituate collecting the dedicated local tax revenue,” he said. “All of the zones are in existing commercial districts, and there is language in the bylaws that would restrict locations within those districts, should there be a school, playground, etc.”
Saunders, who said he does not have a cannabis license and does not plan to launch a business in the future, also feels there is an existing market for cannabis consumption in Scituate that would support a retail store.
In addressing a concern brought up during public meetings, Saunders said “prohibition does not prevent children from accessing marijuana, because despite the intention to control a drug market the reality is prohibition means surrendering control of the market.”
“Now that we have legalization, I can guarantee that no one under 21 is buying cannabis from licensed stores.”
He also said there is no possibility of any contamination of the cannabis product, “as all cannabis products sold in Massachusetts stores must be tested for contaminants, molds, heavy metals, and for THC content.”
Annmarie Galvin, co-founder of the Scituate FACTS Coalition, has been working for a decade to educate and engage the Scituate community in reducing teen drinking and underage substance abuse.
“The very first rule in preventing substance use problems is restricting availability,” she said. “Changing our public health protections to allow that breadth of business goes against everything we’ve been working against in Scituate for the past 10 years.”
She called the proposal “extremely broad.”
“Unfortunately, right now in the U.S., marijuana policy is being driven by for-profit industries, not by science or what is good for communities,” she said. “The industry and the lobby behind the industry are telling everybody it’s harmless, but that’s simply not the case. I know this from my professional experience right here in Scituate where I meet with families who have a loved one suffering from cannabis use disorder or serious mental health impacts from cannabis use. Often they had no idea there was a risk involved.”
Galvin feels more access, more availability and more promotion of these products will only increase use among all age groups including underage youth.
“For a small community like this one that is riddled with addiction problems, and trying so hard to overcome thit is rather shocking to see a proposal that includes 13 different types of cannabis businesses being considered for this town.”
Town Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11 in the gymnasium of Scituate High School, 606 Chief Justice Cushing Highway (Route 3A).
More information on Town Meeting, including the Advisory Booklet and the Warrants may be found on the Town of Scituate website at scituatema.gov
Follow Ruth Thompson on Twitter @scituateruth