Polito: Pot question could curb state aid to cities
Lt. Gov. takes opposition to marijuana to whole new level
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE FUNDING FOR SCHOOLS and local aid could take a hit if voters approve a marijuana legalization ballot question in November, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Tuesday as she implored local officials to join the opposition to Question 4.
After hearing concerns from local officials who comprise the Local Government Advisory Commission, Polito said municipal government officials and the Massachusetts Municipal Association can help the opposition because “this association reaches far and wide.”
“The message today as we all leave here is to do our homework in terms of educating your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your constituency groups, about what this question would mean for Massachusetts and why we need to work in an election when there is a higher turnout of voters to educate and inform the voters as to why they should vote no on Question 4,” she said.
Julie Jacobson, town manager in the central Massachusetts town of Auburn, told Polito that local officials are most concerned about the public safety and public health impacts of legal marijuana as well as what they view as a lack of local control in the law proposed on the November ballot.
“Communities don’t really have a lot of control over what is going to happen in their communities,” she said. “All of us are looking at the same things and all of us have the same concerns.”
Jacobson and MMA President Lisa Blackmer rattled off a litany of marijuana-related issues that they said led the MMA to oppose the ballot question: marijuana-infused products that look like candy, the inability for a municipality to cap the number of marijuana shops in their town, the lack of a roadside test of driver impairment, and the costs associated with regulating the new industry.
Will Luzier, the campaign manager for the Yes on 4 ballot drive, attended the LGAC meeting Tuesday and said afterwards, “there’s been a fair amount of misinformation around all of these issues.”
Polito said the administration is also concerned about the costs associated with regulating a new commercial cannabis industry, and suggested that the state would have to cut back on the funding it provides to cities and towns if Question 4 is approved.
“We’re very concerned about the regulatory costs that would take away funds from needed services, in particular schools and local aid, if that were the case,” Polito said.
“The Alcohol Beverages Control Commission has a budget of about $2.5 million and brings in another $4 million. So they operate and regulate the entire alcohol beverage industry with about $6 million,” Luzier said. “So if the Cannabis Control Commission can’t regulate the cannabis industry with $37.5 million, then somebody’s not paying any attention.”
Jacobson and Polito both highlighted marijuana edibles as a serious concern, citing anecdotes from Colorado of legal marijuana products designed and packaged to look similar to candies or products that appeal to children.
Luzier said Massachusetts is “way ahead of (Colorado) at this point” because the state can learn from the incremental steps Colorado is taking to deal with the marijuana edibles market. Plus, he added, the Department of Public Health under its medical marijuana program already has a regulation prohibiting edibles that look like candy.
“The Cannabis Control Commission is not going to back off of that standard. There won’t be anything like gummy bears or gummy worms of Swedish fish or anything like that,” he said. “We believe the Cannabis Control Commission will have rigorous regulatory authority over edibles and will make sure there isn’t anything that resembles a commercially available candy.”
Though municipalities would not be able to cap the total number of marijuana retailers in their town, Luzier said local officials would still have significant control over their communities. He cited the findings of the Citizens’ Initiative Review panel, a pilot program that aimed to provide unbiased information on the ballot question, which listed as its most important finding that the ballot question “provides significant control to city and town authorities.”
“I understand that these people are local government officials, they’re interested in having as much control as they can,” Luzier said. “But bottom line is an independent group said they have a lot of control and the initiative says municipalities can control the mode of operation, time of operation, location and signage and all kinds of things local government should be involved in.”And concern about a lack of a method for police to test drivers for marijuana impairment is “unfounded,” Luzier said, because a breathalyzer-like test is being tested now and will likely be available to police departments by the time the Massachusetts law takes effect, if it passes.