Mixed Response at Marijuana Forum

Friday, September 14, 2018
By Sue Ellen Woodcock

Town officials held a forum Tuesday night to discuss the issue of retail recreational marijuana businesses in Winthrop.

For the most part the two and one-half hour forum was informational, with some residents and elected officials in favor of recreational marijuana sales and others adamantly opposed. Concerns about the impact and message to children were aired by some and others focused on the revenue for the town.

Currently, there is a local moratorium on licensing any retail marijuana shops and it expires Dec. 31. If the town takes no action anyone can come in on Jan. 1 and open a shop. The town can see if the Attorney General can expand the moratorium to March 2019. The town officials can hold a special election asking to voters if they want a pot shop in town or not. To do this 1,200 signatures are needed to be obtained to put the question on the ballot.

Winthrop voted 54 percent in favor of recreational marijuana in November 2016.

The number of pot shops in any town is determined by the number of liquor licenses in town and it is a 5:1 ratio. Winthrop has six liquor licenses so if allowed there could be only one retail recreational marijuana business in town.

“The town needs to make a decision,” said Town Council President Ron Vecchia.

No votes were taken on the issue but the council is looking to the Planning Board to create a bylaw regarding retail recreational shops as a safeguard for the town. This would address zoning, location, licensing, security plans and buffer zones around schools, daycare centers and parks.

Precint 5 Councilor Linda Calla, who chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee on the Town Council, said, “Time is of the essence.” The consensus is to prepare for a special election to decide which way to go. According to the town clerk, that process can take about six weeks, which brings us into November.”

Town Manager Austin Faison does have some experience on this subject from his past work in Brookline. “And now marijuana sales in Brookline will be up and running in a couple of months,” said Faison, who stressed the revenue that Winthrop could generate. First, there is a 3 percent local tax, then another 3 percent from a host community agreement and a portion of the state’s 16.7 percent tax.

“We’re in some real challenging financial times right now,” said Precint 3 Councilor Nick LoConte. “The truth is we don’t have a lot of revenue beyond property taxes. We need to start getting creative if we’re going to find new sources of revenue if we’re going to pay for things like paving roads, opioid addiction counselors. No one wants big green neon marijuana signs in town. We’re talking about doing this in a classy way.”

LoConte noted that he’s been to shops in Colorado and he doesn’t see any difference from a liquor store.

Resident Rob DeMarco said he hates marijuana, but he also doesn’t want to be anti-business. He noted that the City of Revere has already said ‘no’ to pot shops. Others did also mention how people from other towns could become unwanted customers in Winthrop.

“I agree we need tax revenue. How about we sell or develop the middle school,” said resident Kathleen Capuccio.

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