By Sarah Greenaway and Wayland Youth Advisory Council
At Wayland’s recent Annual Town meeting, the Youth Advisory Committee presented a zoning article proposing a 6 month extension on the start date for issuing marijuana dispensary licenses in town. The vote was very close, the majority voted in favor of the moratorium, but with a 2/3rds affirmative vote needed, the article did not pass. What may not be clear, is the full explanation of the law, the intent of the article, and what it could mean for Wayland as well as the State of Massachusetts. Does Wayland want up to 5 recreational marijuana dispensaries throughout our town, and if so, how do voters want these facilities, along with related grow and distribution businesses regulated?
“The intent of the six month delay was to give our community time to see how surrounding towns in Massachusetts are impacted by the new law. The extra six months would allow Wayland to make well informed decisions on what we want for our community”, said Jason Verhoosky, Wayland Cares Director and staff member of Wayland Youth & Family Services. As it stands now, the licensing process will begin in April 2018, with licenses going into effect in July, 2018. Once these licenses are issued, it will be difficult to regulate the growth of marijuana businesses in Wayland. Wayland voters may have another opportunity in November of this year to weigh in on this issue at Fall Town Meeting.
Wayland was recently listed as the third safest town in the US. Licensing up to five dispensaries could change that welcoming statistic. Marijuana dispensaries are cash businesses and have potential to become targets for theft. Colorado has the most history with legalized recreational marijuana, and many comparisons are being made to understand the full impact. Most of the marijuana dispensaries in Colorado are in a concentrated area, around Denver, Boulder and other major cities. The majority (70%) of the municipalities in Colorado voted to opt out of licensing recreational marijuana dispensaries and related businesses in their communities. Colorado’s current zoning structure is much stricter than what the MA ballot will allow. Most of the CO dispensaries are restricted to specific areas of the town rather than the way the MA ballot was written, to allow dispensaries to be located in any commercial business district.
Massachusetts is just starting to make sense of what the November 2016 ballot initiative will mean for the state and all of its towns and cities. As of December 15th, 2016 the ballot initiative has already legalized the growing for personal use, use by adults over the age of 21, transportation of up to an ounce, as well as gifting of up to an ounce from adult-to-adult. There will be no change to this aspect of the law. The Youth Advisory Committee is concerned with how commercial businesses (cultivation, distribution and retail dispensaries) may impact our community.
Here are some facts you may not be aware of: The way the law is written, 20% of the number of liquor licenses issued in a town will be available for marijuana dispensaries. “Will five new Pot Shops change Wayland? Surrounding towns are passing moratoriums or opting out. I think our community will benefit by proceeding slowly.”, says Sarah Greenaway, parent of four children and chair of Wayland’s Youth Advisory Committee. In Wayland there are over 25 liquor licenses, 20% of that equates to 5 marijuana dispensary licenses. Spreading those around town we could potentially have similar number of dispensaries as liquor stores. Possibilities include one in Cochituate Center, Town Center, along Route 20 in one of the small plazas and one near Mel’s along Route 30. Essentially they could go in any commercial space. Is this what Wayland wants?
There was reference at the Town Meeting that prohibition didn’t work. It was suggested that we not do the same thing with marijuana. There is no comparison. We are not trying to change the intent of the law that anyone over the age of 21 can legally use, possess and grow marijuana. The Youth Advisory Committee suggests we find out the details of how the state is going to manage the commercial sale of marijuana and give Wayland time to decide if we would prefer not to have commercial dispensaries in our town.
To clarify how the tax structure will work: a 6.25% state sales tax will be imposed with an additional 3.75% luxury state tax for the Cannabis Control Commission. Municipalities can add up to 2% in addition, with a maximum of 12% total tax. As comparison, in Colorado the tax structure is much higher, with a total of 20%. This has brought increased revenue to local towns in Colorado with the ability to provide added resources to towns. The Massachusetts tax structure will barely cover oversight and will bring in minimal tax revenue to Wayland.
So if our tax revenue appears low, let’s consider the highs. The highly potent marijuana that is available today is not the same product that what was available 25 years ago. The THC Levels in 1990 averaged between 2-8%. The current low-mid THC levels are in the mid to high teens and and the low end of concentrate is 60% and as high as 95%. These levels can be available not only in smokable product, but also in edibles which are dangerous to adults let alone for children who may ingest them thinking that they are their favorite snack foods. A recreational marijuana dispensary looks similar to a candy store, with many kinds of THC infused candy, gummy bears, chocolate, beverages, baked goods, etc. While labeling could help identify products with THC content, many are packaged to mimic current commercially available snack foods (Pot Tarts, Keef Kats, etc.)
Local resident Gretchen Schuler, President of the Wayland Historical Society and someone very familiar with zoning bylaws commented, “developing a bylaw to regulate anything is complex and takes much thought. I think it is essential that Wayland thoughtfully constructs a bylaw regulating the sale of marijuana in our town. We need guidance from the state on what the rules and regulations will be statewide in order to develop a bylaw that complies with state law and state regulations.”
Studies from the Marijuana Education Initiative have shown how use can adversely impact the developing teen brain. According to a recent study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an 18-year-old with three years of marijuana use four times per week was shown to have significant damage to the brain, with decreased blood flow and activity in the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes. This damage is permanent.
Wayland Police Chief Irving commented: “As with any new law, I believe it is important that careful consideration be given to potential consequences that may be realized when the law is implemented. Retail establishments that sell marijuana for recreational use, should, at a minimum, face the same scrutiny and regulation that liquor licensed establishments now face. I fully support that enough time be given for the town to decide how best to decide where retail marijuana stores may be located and what local regulations may be considered to insure that marijuana is not sold to underage persons.”
Our interest is to keep Wayland a safe family friendly community with a low crime rate. If you haven’t thought about this issue, we urge you to follow our articles, get involved, and be informed.
The schools and our safe town reputation are our bread and butter. Be patient, wait and see what the state does, and measure the impact in other communities before Wayland makes a decision that will be very hard to undo.