Red, White, and Green

Individual towns fight back after statewide legalization of marijuana


Andrew Vontzalides, Contributing Writer

This past election cycle, the voters of Massachusetts narrowly approved a ballot question that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state by a margin of 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent.  Despite this success for pro-legalization groups, parties in opposition to the newly liberalized marijuana laws have been pushing back with some moderate successes.  One does not have to look far back to see examples of this: as recently as Sept. 19, Milford voted by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin to impose a ban on the sale of marijuana in their town.  This is despite the fact that last November Milford voted by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin to legalize the sale of marijuana in the state of Massachusetts.  Under a law passed by the Massachusetts state legislature this past summer, municipalities who opposed the legalization of marijuana can ban the sale of recreational marijuana in their towns without a vote. On the other hand, towns that voted for the legalization may ban recreational marijuana sales in their town, but it must be done by vote.  

With the early voting results, there has been an expected but disappointing trend of hypocrisy, with voters being okay with the legalization of marijuana, just “not in my backyard.”  This perspective can be seen with issues transcending the legalization and sale of drugs;  many communities were largely supportive of the proliferation of wind turbines in previous years, but only as long as they weren’t obstructing the view of their particular skyline or ocean.  Though disillusioning, this is certainly an all-too-human characteristic: supporting noble or transformative ideas in the abstract and opposing the process of making them reality. That voters would oppose the sale of drugs that were very recently illicit in their town or city should come as a surprise to few people.

In my view, the problem lies with the bill passed by the legislature this past summer.  I worked for my state representative Brad Jones, the minority leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, during the passage of this bill.  While I respected his and his colleagues’ integrity and pragmatism, I find the bill deeply flawed in its broad decentralization of the implementation process for the marijuana ballot question.  Having such a large variation in the new rules and regulations for a legalized drug has more than a pernicious effect on the consistency of our state law.  A better compromise would be a bill that was significantly less decentralized but allowed for some leeway for those deeply opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana.  Such a bill would rein in the excesses of the current one in favor of a system where only towns who opposed the vote could ban the sale of marijuana in their town, and then only by vote.  Recreational marijuana is now the law of the land in Massachusetts, and we should be much more conservative with the exceptions we make to it.