September 26 2017

Town Meeting Votes to Ban Sale of Recreational Marijuana in Burlington

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington Town Meeting voted to approve two articles Monday night that ban the sale of recreational marijuana in town.

The articles were created by the Marijuana Advisory Committee, made up of people from different town boards, committee and departments, that was created after the Massachusetts ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana was passed.

At Town Meeting members of that committee spoke about the reasons they were seeking the ban.

The committee chair Barbara L’Heureux, who is also on the Planning Board, said the ban was fulfilling the will of Burlington voters as reflected in the vote last November. She pointed out that 54 percent of Burlington voters rejected the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state while only 44 voted in favor. She also said that because the ballot initiative was at the same time as the heated presidential election turnout was unusually high at 85.6 percent, which she said shows that the will of the people was clear to see.

Other supporters of the articles were Selectman Jim Tigges, Youth and Family Services Executive Director Christine Shruhan and Burlington Police Captain Greg Skehan.

Tigges addressed the financial arguments. He said he had heard people say that the town could make up to 20 percent taxes off of the sale of recreational marijuana. He argued that this was untrue as the state would collect 17 percent and towns had the right to tack on an additional 3 percent if they chose. His argument was that the cost of additional enforcement that would be needed to counter an increase in impaired driving as well as patrols at and around the shops would outweigh the benefit of additional tax revenue.

“I want to ask one question: Is it worth it?” he said.

Shruhan said her concerns were that having recreational marijuana shops or bars in town would send a dangerous message to Burlington youths that using marijuana is not harmful and that subsequently more would engage in the activity. She said the use of marijuana, especially among young people, can cause lasting damage.

“Brain development in youth continues until the age of 25,” she said. “I know it is not legal for anyone under 21 but kids are curious and having it sold here will increase their access to it.”

Skehan said his concerns were the increase in impaired drivers on the roads, the total increase in traffic and the possibility of an increase in theft and robberies.

“In addition to the safety of youth and access by youths, we see the possibility of a rise in theft crimes because it is cash business, not only of the businesses but their customers going in with money and coming out with the product,” he said.

The main voice speaking against the ban was Town Meeting member Monte Pearson who argued that the concerns raised were based on fear rather than facts.  

“I’m here tonight to ask you to oppose these bylaws,” he said. “I think they are overreactions to changing social norms. The fear of an increase in traffic accidents or people getting robbed going into a store are not happening where it is legalized.”

 

He suggested the town should take a similar approach to what it did with medical marijuana dispensaries. In that case a zoning bylaw was created limiting where dispensaries could be set up, keeping them away from places like schools, daycares, churches and parks.  

In the end Town Meeting voted to approve the articles by a wide margin. One argument that seemed to resonate with some members was that even if a ban was passed, it could be changed at a later date if it appeared the fears concerning shops didn’t materialize.

“I don’t think by voting in favor of this matter that we are banging the gavel and saying we’re all prudes,” Town Meeting member Adam Senesi said. “I think approving this is a way to take an incremental approach.”


 

 
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