Can communities that opted out still get in on the action? Or is it too late?
It wasn’t long after the majority of Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016 that opponents of the measure began seeking revenge.
With the resulting law allowing municipalities to enact bans on adult-use, delivery, and/or social consumption—for the first three years, through a simple ordinance or bylaw process if the municipality rejected the cannabis question, or through a public ballot process in places where it passed—more than 80 communities enacted outright bans on pot shops, with more than 100 others putting moratoriums in place.
They were stubborn prohibitionist maneuvers one and all, but at least the latter left doors open, even if in many cases heavy-handed municipal monarchs toed the legal line extending temporary bans, causing instability among potential business owners and consternation from the state attorney general to cannabis consumers in those abstinent areas.
You know where this is headed—in some cases, those same cheap suits who rode over the rights of their constituents to have nearby rec weed suddenly realized how much money they’re missing out on, or snapped out of their fit of reefer madness upon realizing that dispensaries aren’t like crack houses. In other cases, smarter voices have emerged at the forefront of town government. Like in Ludlow, just east of Springfield, where the Reminder reports:
Over the past few months, the Planning Board has been undergoing revisions of the town’s cannabis bylaws to potentially allow for recreational dispensaries after they were initially banned following a ballot question in 2017. Voters approved two Town Meeting articles to permanently prohibit the establishment of retail marijuana shops or cultivation facilities at a Special Town Meeting in November 2017. The proposed zoning bylaw revisions include deleting the prohibition of marijuana establishments and medical marijuana treatment/dispensary and adding adult use marijuana/cannabis establishments and medical marijuana treatment centers.
The bylaw change would instead insert adult use marijuana/cannabis establishments and medical marijuana treatment center or dispensary. It would also add land use classifications such as “Marijuana Cultivator,” “Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC)/ Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD),” “Recreational Marijuana Retail Establishment,” “Marijuana Testing Facility,” and more.
Ludlow’s not the first town to attempt to right its wrongs. Last December, in West Springfield, an effort to reboot consideration of cannabis businesses was thwarted by town councilors.
There have also been successes. In Sandwich, down on Cape Cod, In Good Health was only able to open following a 2022 reversal of the town’s 2017 ban. Woburn, just north of Boston, reversed its ban last September via city council amendment after a proposal and subsequent public discussion (the only catch is that weed businesses will be in an industrial park). And in Braintree, while the ban on rec sales continues, the town council voted last October to allow cultivation and processing in particular zones of the Hub suburb.
In Ludlow, the Reminder wrote that “the Planning Board said their reasoning for trying to allow marijuana establishments is because they think it will be a great source of income for the town.” Kudos to them for noticing, but duh. As the current members noted, “As of January 2023, the Marijuana/Cannabis industry in Massachusetts has recorded over $5 billion in total cannabis sales, with $4 million in adult-use sales and nearly $1 billion in medical sales since the commercial launch more than four years ago, according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission sales data.”
At least they are repentant, and sound less than entitled in their rhetoric. As the board’s vice chair said, “Given the way Ludlow handled this from the beginning where we had a very reactionary response of, we are not going to allow it at all, there is some speculation that the opportunity may have already passed us by. We don’t know if we will get any places that will join in, but this bylaw is reversing that and telling businesses that it is available.”
It will be interesting to see how many other towns have a similar change of heart. For those that do, hopefully it’s not too late to get in on the action.
You can check which towns have bans via this Cannabis Control Commission Municipal Zoning Tracker.