With Pot Legal, Selectmen Consider Curbs on Retail Sale of Marijuana

Photo: What could be coming to Belmont in 13 months.

A head shop on every street corner in Belmont?

While not the most likely business scenario for the “Town of Homes,” unless the Belmont Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting gets together to place allowable restrictions on the retail sale of marijuana, stores much like those in Colorado, dubbed “recreational dispensaries,” could spring up in Belmont’s commercial districts with no prohibition on numbers.

And the clock is ticking.

“If Belmont wants to control [marajuna sales], it has a shorter timetable than it realizes,” said Board of Health Chair Dr. David Alper who meet the Selectmen with fellow board member Julie LeMay on Monday, Dec. 12.

The possession, use, and home-growing of marijuana became legal under state law for adults 21 and older on Thursday, Dec. 15 when the Governor’s Council certified the ballot question 4 which passed on Nov. 8. Adults can hold up to 10 oz. and grow six plants with a maximum of 12 per household.

While municipalities can adopt an outright moratorium on “smoke” shops – Ashland has gone that route – that sell smokable and eatable marijuana, Alper noted Belmont residents voted 53 percent to 47 percent for legalizing pot. Also, prohibiting pot sales would preclude Belmont from receiving up to 2 percent local tax on purchases.

Rather than a ban, Alper advised following the state’s goal of treating marijuana like alcohol, such as placing a cap on the number of establishments in town. The only current restriction on pot shops is they can not be within 500 feet of a school zone.

But Alper said the town must have any limitations in the town’s bylaws by January 2018 when the new law permits the first head shops to open for business.

“[The selectmen] must have an article before Town Meeting [in May 2017] so the town can vote in September,” he said.

“You are driving [future restrictions],” Alper told the selectmen, who advised creating a committee with representatives from the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning, and Health boards to create guidelines for the Selectmen to follow.

“If we do nothing, there could be as many stores … [located] anywhere,” said Alper.

Belmont State Rep. Rogers Co-Sponsors Bill Legalizing Pot in Bay State

Photo: State Rep. Dave Rogers.

For many Bay State residents, it is high time for Massachusetts to follow the lead of states and make marijuana legal.

Belmont’s State Rep. Dave Rogers has heard your pleas.

Rogers, who represents the 24th Middlesex (“ABC”) district including Belmont and precincts in Arlington and Cambridge, and State Sen. Pat Jehlen of Somerville filed a bill (H. 1561) today, Friday, March 13, to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis like alcohol. The bill has 13 co-sponsors.

Under the bill, adults over the age of 21 will be allowed to possess and grow a limited amount of marijuana, joining Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska where marijuana is legal for recreational use.

Massachusetts passed a medical marijuana

The legislation is being pushed by the Marijuana Policy Project which is preparing to place a question on the 2016 Massachusetts general election ballot if this bill fails to pass in the current legislative year.

Rogers and Jehlen consider a ballot question “too blunt of an instrument to establish the complex system necessary to legalize marijuana in a transparent, responsible, and safe manner,” said Jehlen.

Legislation will “allow a full and open legislative debate on this subject, providing an opportunity for policymakers to receive input from a wide variety of stakeholders,” she said.

Last year, State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg created a special committee to investigate how and if the state should legalize marijuana, establishing a structure for the legislature to examine the issue in depth.

“If marijuana is going to be legalized in Massachusetts, we should craft the law properly through an open and deliberative legislative process,” said Jehlen.