A grassroots group sprung up in Newton over the summer in opposition to the impending opening of Newton’s first legal recreational marijuana shops. This isn’t too surprising. In the 2016 statewide referendum on legalizing marijuana the City of Newton voted in favor of legalization by a healthy margin. Even so, there was a minority of 20,000 voters who voted against.
This summer the anti-legalization folks began mobilizing and quickly and effectively mounted a big effort. They blanketed my neighborhood and others in signs. They began organizing, writing emails to their counselors, letters to the Tab and launched a very energetic and successful effort to collect signatures in support of their cause.
With their signature drive they had a choice to make. They could either collect some number (6000?) signatures which would force the City Council to vote Yes/No on putting their proposed no-pot-shops-in-Newton question on the ballot OR they could collect more signatures (9000?) and bypass the City Council and put the question directly on the ballot.
They went for the first option. They collected their signatures with a very concerted effort over the summer. I’m guessing all of you readers encountered at least one of their signature collectors in the past months. This Thursday the City Council will vote on whether or not to add the Opt-Out folks ban-the-pot-shops question on the 2018 ballot. There can always be surprises, but all signs so far indicate that the council will indeed agree to put the Opt-Out question on the 2018 ballot. Congratulations to the Opt-Out folks on an impressive effort. So far so good.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
Under the state law, the City can’t limit the number of pot-shops licensees to less than 20% of the number of liquor stores in the town. Even though the state effort was called the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the state law would allow towns to limit only 1 marijuana shop for every 5 liquor stores in the town. In Newton there are 40 liquor stores so the rules would mean that couldn’t limit to less than 8 pot shops. If the town wanted to allow fewer than that number they would need to have a referendum question on their own ballot. Newton being Newton, the first thing the council did was to enact a moratorium on opening all marijuana shops in Newton. The second thing they did was to hold public meetings and then approved a ballot question to more severely limit the maximum number of marijuana shops in Newton to 2 – 4. The mayor signed off on the this referendum question in July and it is scheduled to appear on your ballot this November.
So now, this week the City Council will be taking up the Opt-Out groups proposal to add a totally-ban-pot-shops-in-Newton referendum question to the ballot in November. That part is fine but what is not fine is that they are very strenuously lobbying the Council to pass new legislation that will take the July (2-4 pot shops) question off the ballot.
Why would they do that? Because they’d really rather say “if you don’t ban pot shops there will be one on every corner” than “if you don’t ban pots there could be a couple of them in Newton”.
From a tactical point of view I totally understand why they’d love to get that existing question off the ballot. That definitely doesn’t mean the City Council should acquiesce in furthering their very political and frankly un-democratic tactics.
Here’s the bigger issue. Back in May-June the Council held public hearings, debated the issue, and after substantial consideration put a ballot question on Novembers ballot that would allow citizens to limit the number of pot shops in Newton. The mayor signed off on that legislation.
At this point, it is an extremely cynical and cheap political stunt to try to get the Council to drop the compromise question off the ballot so that the Opt-Out can run their campaign as “ban-pot-shops vs a total free-for-all”, rather than “total ban” vs ” a few shops”. That ballot question from July to limit Newton pot shops was passed after much consideration by the public, the Council, and the mayor. For the Opt-Out folks to now try to legally un-do it because it would be inconvenient for how they would like to run their campaign is ridiculous.
I urge all City Councilors to resist this cynical move. As the Opt-Out people say “let the people vote”. Councilors: if you do approve the Opt-Out folks ballot referendum, you would be undermining your constituents and your own earlier vote to even consider removing the “2-4 pot shop” question.
To the Opt Out folks: Congratulations on a well run campaign. You did it. You collected the signatures. You’re almost certainly going to get your question on the ballot. Now don’t ruin it by trying to undermine another 100% reasonable alternative ballot question because it may be inconvenient for you. Your campaign was a successful exercise of democracy. Don’t discredit that with a cheap anti-democratic effort.