Retail marijuana sales will be legal in Massachusetts this July and cities and towns are scrambling to get ready with local regulations.
In North Andover, Massachusetts Tuesday night, residents voted 1,430-1,155 at a special town meeting to ban all commercial marijuana establishments in town.
The vote killed a plan to convert a former electronics factory into what developers said would have been one of the largest marijuana cultivation and research facilities in the world.
In other cities and towns across the state, debate is taking place over whether retail marijuana stores should be banned, or limited in number. Where can such establishments operate, and for what hours? At issue: Whether to allow cultivation, processing and manufacturing within the municipal boundaries.
Massachusetts voters in 2016 legalized marijuana for adult use by a wide margin, but now comes the nuts and bolts of putting the voter-approved law into practice and regulating a nascent marijuana industry.
Oh, and the threat of federal prosecution hangs over it all.
After a prolonged debate earlier this month about a proposed one-year moratorium on marijuana stores, the Springfield City Council voted 7-6 to send it off to committee for more study. Council President Orlando Ramos said it is a fairly complex issue.
" Some of my colleagues felt there were just too many unanswered questions," said Ramos. " I think the consensus was there should be a moratorium of some length."
At a public hearing, some city residents urged the council not to drag its feet in implementing the will of the voters and letting local entrepreneurs get into the legal marijuana trade. But Ramos said the council has to proceed cautiously when dealing with zoning and business permitting issues.
"We don't want to delay this anymore than it has to be," said Ramos.
The city’s Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend a temporary moratorium on retail marijuana stores. The city’s deputy director of planning, Philip Dromey, said it will give the city time to digest the regulations the state is still finalizing to implement the new marijuana law.
"The main concern the city has is we are still waiting on the finalized regulations from the state," explained Dromey. " Our goal is to get the ( local ) regulations done as quickly as we can once those state regulations are finalized."
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission also recommended cities and towns put a temporary hold on marijuana stores and many municipalities have followed that advice.
The Town Council in Palmer approved a moratorium that will be in effect until July, unless new regulations are ready sooner.
In Amherst, officials are preparing regulations to cap the total number of retail pot stores at eight.
The Cannabis Control Commission begins a series of public hearings Monday in western Massachusetts on regulations for the pot industry that must be finalized by March 15th.
The hearings Monday are at 8:30 a.m. at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield and at 2 p.m. at Holyoke Community College. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Recent statements from Attorney General Jess Sessions and the newly-appointed U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, have raised the potential for a crackdown.