HANSON — Voters at Town Meeting on Monday, May 2 supported a marijuana bylaw amendment to clarify language now on the books, but followed that vote by rejecting articles seeking retail, currier/operators and use of property on Hawks Avenue for possible cannabis businesses.
Debate also focused on articles that proposed a senior outreach position at the Council on Aging and that sought to remove recent controls to the recall provision. The town’s $15,069,795 share of the Whitman-Hanson Regional School budget was approved without question or comment. A $32,346,578 municipal budget was also approved.
As expected, the five cannabis-related articles were the subject of most discussion during the meeting.
Moderator Sean Kealy and Town Counsel Kate Feodroff admonished voters that the issue of marijuana was not the tricky part, and that the articles one issue at a time, because “amending these bylaws is a very complicated thing,” Kealy said. “The problem is each article depends on the article before it.”
Still, much of the debate, indeed, focused on marijuana and its attractiveness to youth, its stronger potency than in the past — especially where edibles are concerned — and their concern of children being exposed to it.
All four votes required a count.
The first, Article 25, re-codifies and updates existing language and combined bylaws governing medical cannabis facilities and cannabis establishments in their current forms. They required two-thirds margins for passage. Article 25 was passed by a 144-67 vote.
Attorney General Maura Healy’s statement that medical marijuana cannot be barred from a town was a focus of debate on the article, making one resident express the wish that Article 26 — seeking to permit cannabis retailers for adult use by special permit — was up for a vote first. Article 26 was later rejected by a vote of 95-83.
“If medical can’t be barred from a town, then potentially, someone could come in and do medical and eventually switch that to retail,” one resident said.
Feodoroff said that would not be possible under the combined bylaw because, while oversight for medical and adult recreational use both fall under the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) they are still separate entities requiring entirely different host community agreements and zoning bylaws.
“They’re all chipping away, they’re all looking for a chink in the armor, from what I can tell, to get marijuana in this town,” resident Dan McDonough of Carriage Road said, noting he appreciates the work the Select Board has been doing. “Any money we save in taxes, we’re going to pay for down the road in rehab.”
Bob Huston of West Washington Street said all the articles relate to a map for the overlay district plan.
“You’re taking out the restrictions on the placement of [retailers] in church zones, in school zones and other places where youth congregate,” he said. “Our issue is to protect our families and our children.”
Kealy said he wanted to avoid arguing all the articles at once in order to have clear idea of what each article entailed.
Retired teacher Peter Travaline of Pleasant Street said it upsets him that the language “… and other places where children congregate…” would be removed from the bylaw [Article 25]. “If you’re not going to help the kids,” he said gesturing with his hand flicking outward from his chin.
Kealy, who stressed he does not vote at town meetings, said the intent of the bylaws was to place the town in compliance with the latest state legislation.
Frank Milisi, who sponsored, and worked with town officials to develop the cannabis articles as revenue sources, said there was no intention to place a retail establishment on Hawks Avenue near Burrage Wildlife Management Area.
“Marijuana is already here in Massachusetts,” Milisi said, noting that it brought in more revenue for the state than liquor excise taxes. “This is a tax source that is not on the backs of people in this town.”
He said a bad idea for his kids would be failure to have fully funded schools and a recreation department.
Annette Benenato of Brookside Drive gave a lengthy, impassioned statement about the dangers of allowing cannabis retailers in town, touching on the risk to younger teens, the THC potency in cannabis today, the experience of other states and the relatively low amount of funds the impact fees would raise.
“Adding more drugs to our community does not add value to our community,” she said.
Article 27, which would add Hawks Avenue to the list of eligible locations for marijuana retail establishments was also rejected by a voice vote. Article 28, to permit cannabis delivery operators and couriers in the town’s industrial zone was also defeated by a vote of 67-26 and Article 29 aimed at authorizing the Select Board to enter into a 20-year lease of 3.8 acres of town-owned property at 100 Hawks Ave. for commercial and/or industrial use was also rejected.
Voters also voted against an initiative petition article seeking to again amend the town’s recall law and make it easier to seek a recall — in the interest of forging a less toxic political climate in Hanson.
The article brought by Kevin Cohen argued for reinstating the previous recall law, allowing residents to establish their own grounds for recalling elected officials, rather than the seven listed in the new recall under Chapter 93 of the Acts of 2019.
“The toxic political arena in this town is causing good people not to run for those seats up front,” said resident Joseph O’Sullivan of West Washington Street, gesturing to the Select Board and Finance Committee. “People should be recalled for malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance, not because the took votes, in doing their jobs, that some of you didn’t like.”
Three present or former town officials, ex-Select Board Chair Jim McGahan, former School Committee Chair Bob Hayes and current Finance Committee member Patrick Powers outlined how they had been threatened with recall for casting unpopular votes on their respective boards.
McGahan, who ran for office during a recall effort in the past, said he had since his election been subjected to threats of recall if he voted opposite to the position of others in town.
He said the board, during his tenure, changed the rules to provide guidance for proper use of recall by listing seven reasons for a recall: conviction of a felony, admissions of misdemeanors by Mass. law, admissions to facts while in office that would lead to a conviction of felony misdemeanors, violation of any of the 29 sections of conflict of interest law, attendance of less than 50 percent of posted meetings, lack of fitness and sobriety while performing official functions, involuntary commitment to a mental health facility and/or corruption convictions.
“We modeled the town of Norwood,” he said. “We used it to protect our official to [allow them] to have ideas and present them without feeling they are under duress or influence,” McGahan said.
Hayes, who was a six-time elected member of the School Committee, serving as chair for 15 years, and had experienced threats of recall, too.
“Every time we went to build a school, or talked about it, I was getting threatening phone calls,” he said. “Changing this recall law [would be] a disaster. It’s tough enough to get five people that are up there [the Select Board] … but I ran six times unopposed. If I didn’t run, that seat would have gone vacant. … It’s not democracy. It’s pressure that is undue elected officials.”
Powers said he did not disagree with the purpose of the article, but said it was a little too wide open.
“There are folks in this room who have threatened me, threatened my family, made accusations on social media… posting disgusting things, both personal and private,” he said, noting some officials’ employers have been called, as well. “I don’t think this is the language to do it if we want to see people get up there.”