With Newton Ballot Question, Voters Could Opt-Out of Marijuana Establishments

The Newton City Council voted on Sept. 7 to allow a question on the November ballot that would allow voters to “opt-out” of having recreational marijuana establishments in Newton. The vote to put the question on the ballot was proposed after a group of Newton residents organized to protest the addition of recreational marijuana establishments to the community.

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters turned up to the polls and voted yes on Question 4, effectively legalizing marijuana in the state. Specifically in the city of Newton, 54.7 percent of people voted in favor legalization, according to The Boston Globe. One medical marijuana establishment, Garden Remedies, is currently located in Newton and is exempt from the possible sanctions on recreational facilities.

Some Newton residents have expressed concern about the possibilities of recreational shops opening in town. One resident, Emanuele Viola, created a public petition on a personal WordPress site in order to have the question put on the ballot. Viola’s chief concern is that Newton would become a “hub for west suburban marijuana users,” since local towns Wellesley, Weston, Needham, and Dedham voted to block recreational stores from opening. Newton becoming a hub for marijuana users would increase the number of people possibly driving under the influence, according to Viola. Viola linked to the petition on optoutnewton.org.

“Although recreational consumption of marijuana is legal throughout Massachusetts, state law allows cities and towns to opt-out of having retail stores and other establishments offering recreational marijuana within their town limits if such a ban is approved by voters in a ballot measure,” the website says on its homepage. “Such a ban would not prohibit adults’ right to consume, grow or purchase recreational marijuana.”

The website has an FAQ section that has answers to questions such as “Why is a marijuana dispensary more disturbing than a liquor store?,” “I use or have used pot, aren’t you overreacting to recreational use?,” and “Won’t legalizing recreational marijuana sales reduce the black market?,” among others. The petition on the same site gathered the necessary 6,000 signatures to bring the question before the City Council.

The vote to allow this question on the ballot comes after the Newton City Council passed a temporary ban on March 5, which, according to previous Heights reporting, was passed so that the Zoning and Planning Committee would have time to complete a planning process to consider in which districts and under what conditions recreational marijuana establishments will be allowed to open.

The temporary hold was expected to last until December 2018. Then, it was intended to be lifted so recreational marijuana establishments could apply for licenses, councilors said this past spring.

Featured Image Courtesy of Newton Patch