Although nearly two million Massachusetts residents voted to legalize cannabis last November, local governments across the state are fighting to keep legal marijuana out of their cities and towns – and winning. Municipal officials across the state were granted the power to keep legal cannabis out of their communities by a re-write of the voter-approved legalization measure that state legislators passed this summer.
Under the new law, elected officials in any of the 91 communities that opposed the legalization ballot measure can impose bans or moratoriums on cannabis without needing a vote. In areas where voters supported the legalization measure, local officials can hold referendums to debate banning or limiting cannabis in their communities. So far, out of over 100 anti-pot measures proposed by local municipalities, over 90 have been passed, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
The fight to legalize cannabis in the state last year was well-funded, well organized, and hugely successful, but voters, advocacy groups, and even canna-businesses are not getting involved in local fights over legalization. The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the primary organizers of last year's legalization effort, said that local politics are not within the organization's charter. “Like any activist organization, MPP has to make strategic decisions on where its resources go,” said spokesman Jim Borghesani.
“It’s a logistically daunting task to organize and coordinate multiple grass-roots campaigns,” Borghesani explained. “That said, we’re well aware of the local-level threats to a regulated and taxed system, and our involvement may expand.” Kamani Jefferson, head of the Mass. Recreational Consumer Council, said that his group doesn't have the resources “to beat these prohibitionists all over the state in time.”
The next large battle over local prohibition will happen this Tuesday in Milford, where 52% of residents voted to approve legalization. Local officials (who all opposed legalization) are holding a referendum to prohibit canna-businesses locally. A well-established local organization, Milford CARES, is working hard to fight for the ban, arguing that retail cannabis stores will tarnish the town's family-friendly reputation.
A smaller local group, Milton Citizens for Fairness, is working alongside a couple of local medical marijuana businesses to advocate against the ban. However, many local canna-businesses have not stepped up to fight for their right to do business in the town. Kamani Jefferson said that the owners of these businesses may be afraid of alienating municipal officials, whose support they would need to get their businesses running. “It should be the top priority in their business plans, but they’re unsure about coming out and [campaigning],” Jefferson said.