Cannabis may be legal in Massachusetts, but many cities and towns are taking steps to prevent cannabis entrepreneurs from opening up shops in their neighborhoods. Although recreational cannabis was legalized throughout the state by a ballot measure in 2016, a recent legislative re-write of the law allows individual municipalities to prohibit canna-businesses within their jurisdictions.
Even though the majority of Massachusetts residents voted in favor of cannabis legalization, individual municipalities' referendums to prohibit canna-businesses have also been winning majority votes. In September, the Massachusetts Municipal Association reported that over 100 cannabis prohibition measures had been proposed by local governments, and over 90 of these had been approved. Later that month, a small majority of voters in Milford voted to ban cannabis establishments in order to preserve the family-friendly reputation of their city.
The residents of Amesbury just bucked this trend, voting against the prohibition of retail cannabis in their city at this week's election. This almost 2-to-1 victory is due in part to the efforts of one couple and their grassroots campaign to support legalization in their city. Longtime cannabis advocate Scott Winters and his girlfriend Kirsten Muse began their fight against prohibition after the Amesbury City Council voted 5-4 to prohibit canna-businesses in their city.
Winters was appointed by Amesbury mayor Ken Grey to the city's Recreational Marijuana Committee after the initial legalization measure passed last year. When he learned of the City Council's prohibition vote, he created the Pro Retail Cannabis Amesbury ballot question and then began to campaign to gather support. Winters and Muse used social media, door-to-door visits, lawn signs, and custom baseball caps to convince voters to oppose the prohibition measure.
"We didn't do any mailings or anything," Winters explained to The Daily News of Newburyport. "We had signs but we were determined not to sink a bunch of money into this. We did one fundraiser and we stopped our donations at the $420 mark." The campaign actually ended up raising $570, and also gained support from the Marijuana Policy Project, who supported the legalization ballot measure in 2016. "We don't want to see a patchwork prohibition put in place," explained Jim Borghesani, the group's communications director.
"We played a very minor role in this," Borghesani continued. "Scott deserves all the credit for this. He personally advocated against the ban for all the right reasons. We want to make sure the criminal market is undercut as soon as possible. And we want to make sure that Amesbury gains new tax revenues from a legal and regulated industry."
"There are a lot of people who have private messaged me over the years who can't speak [on the matter]. Either they were business owners or schoolteachers, or mental health professionals, or large-scale landowners," Winters said. "There are all kinds of people who encouraged me to keep going. It really has been the people of the city who have always been in sync with this. I would have walked away if it wasn't for the fact that the people in the city really wanted to do this."
"We are very happy with the results in Amesbury but clearly a lot of the results have gone the other way," Borghesani said. "Over the past week, Dracut shot down a moratorium and so did Marshfield a few weeks ago. So, the local groups are key for us. It will be local groups that will make this happen."