HANSON — The Board of Selectmen has approved the placement of a local-control retail marijuana bylaw, banning the sale of cannabis, before October’s special Town Meeting as well as a referendum ballot.
Discussing the issue only among themselves without accepting questions or comments from the public, the board agreed 5-0 that the state’s Chapter 94G provisions for the two-step process would best permit residents to have a say on the issue.
Selectmen also declined to share their own personal opinions on the issue as irrelevant.
“I’m not even going to share that because it doesn’t really matter,” said Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell, supporting the Town Meeting warrant article. “I got voted in to make the right decision for the town of Hanson. I personally think that it should be left up to the voters.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, who asked for the issue to be placed on the board’s agenda, agreed with Mitchell.
“We’re here to do the will of the people,” she said. “I don’t think it matters what each one of us individually think and I’m not here to argue for or against the moral merits because the state has decided that it’s legal.”
She said she did not anticipate, nor endorse “continually” bringing the issue back before the board.
“Move forward,” Selectman Wes Blauss said in support of the article.
“I believe the will of the people will really be voiced,” agreed Selectman Matt Dyer.
“It’s up to the people,” Selectman Jim Hickey said.
They rejected claims they had heard around town that it was a ploy to give proponents “a second bite of the apple.”
Selectmen plan to hold an informational forum on the issue before the special Town Meeting to permit residents to ask questions and/or comment on the issue.
“This is on the agenda because the Board of Selectmen wanted to talk about this and make a decision whether or not we wanted to move forward regarding retail marijuana shops,” said Mitchell. “This started in November 2016 [when] we had a state-wide vote … whether or not we wanted to legalize marijuana. The town of Hanson said yes. It was a slim margin, but we said yes.”
The next year Town Meeting rejected a moratorium measure sought by the Planning Board, based on an East Bridgewater measure designed to provide towns more time to obtain more information before further action was taken.
“We were very surprised that it did not pass, that people did not want to at least take some time to be thoughtful and study it,” said FitzGerald-Kemmett. “I think that a lot of people, when it was voted on at the state level, were voting on it conceptually. … ‘Am I OK with it in the state of Massachusetts?’ They weren’t necessarily aware … now you need a two-step process [to keep it out of town].”
In July 2017, Gov. Charlie Baker developed a process for towns that voted yes on the 2016 ballot to opt out of permitting retail shops within their borders.
“If a town voted no on marijuana [in 2016] all they had to do was go to a Town Meeting vote to ban retail shops,” Mitchell said. “If a town voted yes, then there is a two-step process.”
A local-control bylaw would have to go before Town Meeting, and if approved there, to a referendum.
“The two votes that we’ve had are totally different than we’re discussing tonight,” Mitchell said.
In other business, the board approved a request by the Education Committee to place information, as well as a request for donations, on the tax bill in an effort to spur donations.
“There’s a misconception bout what the Hanson Education Fund is and we’re hoping to alleviate some of that and have people understand what it is,” said Chairman Gary Banuk. The fund has been on the tax bill as a donation option since 1993.
Response has not been good of late, with last year averaging about $150 per quarter in total donations.
“That’s not really a lot to help the students of Hanson,” Banuk said, noting that funds had been donated to purchase Chromebooks for Hanson schools last year. It is not limited to primary or secondary school pupils. Residents of Hanson with educational expenses are welcome to apply for funding, including for college or other vocational education costs such as books.
Selectmen also discussed their goals for the year, most of which are ongoing projects. But Blauss requested the addition of a plastic bag ban and Dyer asked if polystyrene beverage cups could be added to that list.
“We can look around at the process that other towns have already worked at to do this,” Blauss said. “I also don’t want to scare our businesses, either, by going at it so fast that they don’t have time to adjust.”
Town Administrator Michael McCue said that issue, conceivably could go before the October Town Meeting, providing a grace period until the start of next fiscal year before implementation in order to give local businesses time to make accommodation.