It’s been less than a week since voters in Massachusetts and seven other states reformed their marijuana laws. And where there’s legalization, what comes next? Bans, of course, as doggedly anti-pot politicians all over the country look to slap limits on what the voters just approved.
Possession of limited amounts of cannabis in Massachusetts becomes legal on Dec. 15, and retail marijuana stores can’t open until January 2018 at the latest … or so a majority of voters thought.
Already, state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is trying to push the deadline back in order to “build an effective oversight force,” according to the Boston Globe, which reports that mayors and leaders of other communities across the state are figuring out ways to keep pot out of their towns.
All this in a state that openly admits to be suffering through the prescription opiate epidemic.
Legalization passed by a decisive eight points in Massachusetts, 54 percent to 46 percent, a margin of victory that would be used as an unquestionable mandate if it were seen in the presidential race.
In Florida, medical marijuana received overwhelming 71 percent support. Few issues have this kind of popularity. If you thought politicians would want to ride this wave, you would be sadly naive.
As they have all along during marijuana’s long road from accepted tonic to despised scourge back to acceptance again, local leaders in states where cannabis is now allowed are taking steps to keep it out of their communities.
In Orlando, Florida, city officials on Monday took the first step toward renewing a moratorium on medical marijuana in that city, a ban inspired by several inquiries by would-be sellers of low-to-no THC oils. Yes—the oils with absolutely no recreational utility, the oils that have led parents to uproot their families and move to other states just to access, are inspiring bans.
In South Florida, at least a half-dozen suburbs of Miami had passed or were hurrying to pass moratoriums of their own. In Boca Raton, one city councilmember tried to justify a ban by pointing out that a citizen would be able to use medical marijuana in town; they just couldn’t buy it there. Wonderful—and as usual, the question of “where, then, do you propose someone to buy this mythical voter-approved marijuana” is left unanswered.
Massachusetts’ law allows cannabis retail outlets to be limited in several ways. They can be banned outright by voter initiative, and local officials can limit the number of dispensaries to 20 percent the number of liquor stores. In smaller towns with fewer than five liquor stores, expect lots of lively discussion as to exactly what 20 percent of three constitutes.
Marty Walsh is mayor of Boston, the state’s largest city, where 62 percent of voters approved legalization. A recovering alcoholic, Walsh was one of Question 4’s most vocal opponents. A spokeswoman told the Globe that Walsh will ensure “the law is implemented in a way that best serves the city of Boston and its residents.” That’s noncommittal at its finest, with plenty of room to make life difficult for would-be cultivators and dispensers.
None of this should be a surprise, though it would have been refreshing for localities—especially ones where there isn’t much of an economy—to take a peek at Colorado or Oregon and take note that Denver and Portland have hundreds of dispensaries and appear to be viable, livable communities.
In some rural areas of Colorado, as in California, weed is literally keeping the municipal lights on. If there are any places in Massachusetts seeing legalization as a similar opportunity, the Globe did not find them.
Most arguments articulated by mayors and councilmembers looking to restrict or ban cannabis from their communities will sound awfully familiar. Marijuana brings a bad element. It will have unintended consequences. Kids will get their hands on the stuff.
It’s almost as if these are the same chimeras summoned up by legal and medical marijuana’s opponents in their failed attempts to convince voters that this is a bad idea. Spoiler: They are the same failed arguments.
But diehards are holding out hope that those old saws aren’t intellectually bankrupt after all. Maybe they just weren’t articulated properly. In Quincy, Mass., a suburb of Boston where Amendment 4 passed, 51 percent to 49 percent, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas P. Koch said the mayor is “open” to put a measure banning marijuana shops back before those same voters.
Koch believes “a more robust dialogue about the implications could have a different result locally,” spokesman Chris Walker told the newspaper.
Whether that’s code for “drumming up fear and paranoia to circumvent the will of otherwise-sound voters” remains to be seen.