Local government group opposes marijuana legalization in Massachusetts

–Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents the city and town governments in the state, has voted to oppose a ballot question that would legalize recreational marijuana here. The MMA’s board voted unanimously this month, according to its executive director, Geoff Beckwith.

The MMA’s concerns include what it perceives as weak local control provisions in the question. Under the proposed law, city and town governments would be able to set some limits on the number of marijuana retail stores in their communities. But in order to sharply limit the quantity or outright ban the stores, the cities or towns would need to hold a local referendum.

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“The ballot question itself also takes away a lot of local control that should be in place,” Beckwith said.

Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said the ballot question offers “significant local control” and that to say otherwise is “just inaccurate.” He said municipal governments will have the ability to cap the number of stores, to add a local tax to all sales, and control the stores’ signage and hours.

He said that it makes sense to hold referendums over whether to ban the stores because if the law is approved by voters, voters should also have the ability to back out of hosting retailers.

“This is an initiative ballot — if this passes to the extent that other [Massachusetts marijuana-related] ballot initiatives have passed…then it seems logical that the towns themselves, voters themselves, should decide what to do rather than a handful of elected officials,” he said.

Beckwith said the MMA also had concerns about a provision in the law that allows individuals to cultivate up to six plants per individual and 12 per household, as well as general concerns about public health and potential youth access to the drug.

According to Beckwith, the MMA did not take formal positions on medical marijuana or marijuana decriminalization prior to ballot questions that saw the initiatives roundly approved by voters in 2012 and 2008 respectively. The MMA weighed in with concerns about medical marijuana’s roll-out once the law was approved, including calling for a delay on implementation.

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who is among the leaders of the opposition campaign against the ballot question, serves on the MMA’s board.

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