HANSON — Voters at special Town Meeting Monday, Oct. 1 narrowly approved an article amending the General Bylaws in order to prohibit the retail sale of recreational cannabis products, but failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required by a second article to amend the town’s Zoning Bylaws.
Both will also appear on a Nov. 6 town ballot, but the zoning question is effectively moot — leaving the town to depend on a bylaw approved in May restricting retail marijuana businesses to an overlay district with frontage on Route 27/ Main Street and Franklin Street.
“The reason why we have two separate bylaws on this Town Meeting warrant is because there is some question as to whether or not a General Bylaw will serve to prohibit,” said Town Counsel Katherine Feodoroff. “It’s potentially challengeable.”
She said her firm would do their best to protect the town if a challenge is received.
The 50-45 vote in support of the General Bylaw included those who out-and-out support the financial benefit such businesses represent for the town — such as all five Finance Committee members and three selectmen — and those who waned to give more voters the chance to vote on the issue. The Zoning Bylaw article’s 49-43 vote supporting it failed the two-thirds margin required by zoning articles — amid confusion over the difference between the two.
A question arose centering on the vote total on the General Bylaw as to whether a quorum still existed, but a handful of people, including Moderator Sean Kealy, said they had not voted.
Yes votes were in support of the prohibitions, no votes were in favor of allowing retail cannabis sales in town.
“We look at everything from a fiduciary standpoint,” said Finance Committee member Kevin Sullivan in explaining his board’s position. “It’s not our job to interpret whether or not the citizenry should take another vote. We looked at this as any other business coming into town, it’s a valid stream of revenue that comes to the town — quite frankly, we’re in desperate need of revenue.”
Town officials, however, declined to estimate how much tax revenue such businesses might generate, while others spoke of financial boosts already realized by towns of comparative size in Colorado, California and Washington.
“We feel that it would be irresponsible for us to try and estimate that,” said Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “It’s a new business. … Anyone trying to do a business plan would be very hard-pressed to figure that out.”
“Like any other business, we wouldn’t measure validity of it based on revenue,” Sullivan said.
“The main reason that I’m voting yes on this article … is that I certainly want, for the very first time Hanson is going to be possibly authorizing sale of recreational marijuana,” resident Bruce Young of Indian Head Street said of the General Bylaw question. “I certainly want to maximize the democratic process.”
He argued that the town’s 7,600 voters should decide the issue, not a quorum of 108 people at a town meeting.
Resident Annette Benenato of Brookside Drive, meanwhile, expressed concern over the type of products sold by such businesses, including edible products such as gummie candies, lollipops, sodas and baked treats containing THC, the psycho-active compound in cannabis.
“These marijuana products are appealing to our youth and there is growing scientific literature that shows adolescents and young adults who are regular marijuana users are at increased risk for addiction and mental health disorders,” she said. Benenato also argued that youth use rates are highest where cannabis is legal, that sales tax revenue will not present a tax windfall and the town has a right to opt out of retail sales.
Patrick Powers of Holmes Street reported that health department reports in Colorado and Washington both found that marijuana use actually decreased among youth in grades six through 12 after legalization as well as a 6.5 decrease in opioid overdose deaths. He also said children are not allowed in cannabis shops where customers must show ID to enter and wait in a waiting room before they are assisted by a certified employee who has passed background checks. No products are on display in the shops.
“We as a town of 7,000-plus voters have had a chance three times — this is our fourth, November will be the fifth — to come and voice their opinions,” Powers said. “So to say that our town hasn’t had a chance to come and vote on this issue, either on a state ballot or at a town meeting … is a complete falsehood.”
Joseph Campbell of Woodbine Avenue argued that Hanson would benefit from tax revenue on both the local and state level, noting that similar towns out west have benefits for land-locked towns with slowing growth.
“We have an opportunity knocking at our door,” Campbell said, noting individual moral decisions must take place in the home. “If you have a liquor store at the end of your street, is that going to make you an alcoholic? Probably not.”
He stressed that the Board of Selectmen will retain the right to grant or rescind licenses as well as bestowing the financial “gifts” of taxes from the businesses to public safety and school needs.
Thomas Pellerin of Waltham Street, who moved to Hanson from Lynn 21 years ago, said he has seen what drugs can do to a community from living in Lynn.
“Hanson has been a nice community and I think this would change that community,” he said. “Do we really want this for our town?”
Planning Board member Joseph Gamache asked Police Chief Michael Miksch to weigh in on the issue.
Miksch, who does not live in town, quipped that he really didn’t want to comment.
“I’ve been asked to speak about this a number of times,” he said. “This isn’t what Mike Miksch wants. But it doesn’t matter what I want. Whatever laws you pass, that’s what we enforce.”
He said he didn’t want to get into the financial question, but said a friend who serves as a major in the Colorado State Police has reported that accidents and impaired driving citations have increased. There is no scientific way to test for drug impairment.
“There’s always ripple effects to everything,” he said.