Town, League Seek To Clear The Haze Over Pending Marijuana Bylaw Vote

Photo: If Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski is baffled by the marijuana ballot next week, so are a lot of Belmontians.

Ok, let’s go over this once more. Belmont is voting on marijuana again despite the state legalizing pot sales to adults statewide in 2016, just this time if you vote “yes” there’ll be less pot use in town and if you vote “no,” the town will be open to more marijuana businesses coming here.

What? Like, now I’m really confused.

And the likelihood that many Belmontians will bring this same level of bewilderment to the polls next Tuesday, Sept. 25, has prompted both the town and local nonpartisan advocacy group to step forward to “clear the haze” concerning the marijuana ballot question.

The Belmont League of Women Voters Educational Fund is holding an informational session on the ballot question on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St. The league’s Study Committee on Marijuana will provide information on the issue. The league has also invited Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman to be available to answer questions.

“Since Town Meeting in May, the Town Clerk’s office has received many phone calls and visits from voters who are confused and puzzled about the available choices,” said Cushman.

Voters will be asked to either accept or reject a new bylaw allowing Belmont to “opt-out” of permitting the five pot-related industries authorized under state law with one exception, which is up to two pot stores located in three commercial business areas around town. If the voters reject the bylaw, Belmont would be compelled to allow four marijuana business – if they applied – to be located in town:

  • Retail marijuana stores
  • Marijuana product manufacturers
  • Marijuana cultivators
  • Marijuana testing facilities

While seemingly straightforward, the major issue residents have is the language on the ballot itself, which reads as a legal notice residents receive on the back of their credit card statement. The reason for the legalize lingo is because the state’s Campaign Finance law allows only the actual language appearing on the ballot which was written by the town counsel. No explanation, no clarification. 

View the ballot here.

And that is what has election watchers worried.

“Yes, folks will get confused on this ballot question,” said Bonnie Friedman of the League of Women Voters. “That’s why we are trying to educate much more than the usual stuff for this election.”

Friedman points to a posting on a Belmont Parents Facebook group, that stated “A YES Vote” on Tuesday, September 25th, “Zones and limits how RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA is sold”, and a “No Vote”, “Does NOT limit how and where RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA is sold.” 

Besides the informational meeting, individual efforts have been ongoing to bring voters up to speed what’s on the ballot. 

“I handed out 86 info-sheets at the Farmers’ Market on Thursday. We were thinking that it would be awesome if we could stand at each polling place and do that, but the league doesn’t have enough members to do it,” said Friedman. 

Cushman is spearheading her two-pronged outreach effort which is her “attempt to help those voters along,” she said.

The first part was having a yellow-colored single page pamphlet included in Belmont Light’s September utility bills “to let voters know that the Board of Selectmen had called a Special Town Election for Sept. 25.”

The second part was Cushman authoring a “What your vote means” press release to help voters understand the two choices posed by the ballot language. (See the press release below)

It’s hoped that the final push to brief the public on the issues will keep voters from being confused and frustrated as they vote next week.

“I applaud all … efforts to educate and inform Belmont’s voters on the topic and the ballot choices and I look forward to their voter education event Sept. 20 at Chenery,” said Cushman. “We all hope for a strong voter participation and informed electorate.”

Here is Cushman’s press release on the two choices voters face on Sept. 25.

What does your vote on the ballot question mean? 

A Yes vote allows retail marijuana establishments to be licensed in Belmont and limits the number to 20 percent of the number of “package store” licenses we have issued; currently, that calculation would result in up to two licenses. This vote would also prohibit businesses that cultivate, manufacture or test marijuana from being licensed to open in Belmont.

A No vote allows retail marijuana establishments to be licensed in Belmont, but there would be no limit on the number of licenses that could be issued.  Also, businesses that cultivate, manufacture or test marijuana could be licensed; likewise, there would be no limit on the number of these licenses that could be issued.

Both Yes and No votes allow the Town of Belmont to create time, place and manner Zoning Bylaws regulating where, and how marijuana businesses may operate in Town, but only a Yes vote would let the Zoning Bylaw limit, directly or indirectly, the total number of retail stores allowed in Belmont. The proposed Zoning Bylaw regulating marijuana businesses is expected to be voted at the Special Town Meeting scheduled Nov. 13. The Belmont Board of Health has already adopted recreational-use marijuana regulations.

All marijuana licenses are issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; they not issued locally.

Belmont’s six polling places will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25.