North Attleboro selectmen are facing a decision that town leaders in neighboring communities have had to confront in recent months and years: Whether or not to prohibit the possibility of a medical marijuana dispensary locating in town.
Under the convoluted laws passed in the Commonwealth after a medical marijuana question was approved by voters, boards of selectmen are granted early and absolute power in this regard. With a simple vote, they can prevent any such facility from being opened within the borders of the community.
The law says such facilities cannot even seek a license to operate in a particular town unless the selectmen first issue either a letter of support, or a letter of “non-opposition.” If they oppose it, that kills the process immediately.
And that would be just fine with state Sen. Richard Ross, who has been a vocal opponent of marijuana facilities, largely because he fears pot will be legalized recreationally. The veteran Republican lawmaker from Wrentham was present at the North Attleboro selectmen’s meeting this past week and was quite vocal in warning of what he sees as the dangers.
A business called Hope Heal Health is seeking to apply for a facility in the North Attleboro Industrial Park. They have run a similar business in nearby Rhode Island for the last 18 months with no incidents. North officials have toured that site.
Their business would have 80 security cameras, monitored by law enforcement. It would have security officers. Patients would need two forms of identification just to get into the building. And only people with prescriptions would be able to make use of the product at this site.
It would also generate considerable fees for cash-strapped North Attleboro over time. It would employ as many as 100 people eventually, according to the owners.
But Ross and others are concerned it could become more if Massachusetts voters approve the use of recreational marijuana in the next year. Ross intimated that allowing such a facility strictly for those with medical prescriptions could open the door to a recreational pot business.
“I don’t want to call you a front,” Ross told the potential operators at the local hearing. “But it’s almost a front.”
It is more than a little disappointing and frightening to hear such talk from a powerful state official like Ross. This “pot paranoia” is indicative of the inability of much of state government to understand what most citizens discovered long ago – that marijuana, particularly medical marijuana, poses little threat to society.
To be sure, Ross has some experience in studying the subject. He was a member of a group of lawmakers who traveled to Colorado earlier this year to study the effects legalization of recreational pot has had there. And he clearly was not impressed, saying the commercialization there “has crippled Denver.”
Ross pretty much said those opening these medical marijuana facilities are just hedging their bets, trusting they can expand to recreational sales in the near future. He overlooks the fact that any such move would require a completely different and separate licensing process.
A medical marijuana facility would have far more restrictions than drugstores, where hard drugs of all types are regularly housed. It would have just a fraction of the traffic. And yet, Ross is worried about a prescription marijuana store somehow becoming a recreational pot haven.
This is the same senator who signed a letter to the state attorney general criticizing her recent decision to expand the assault weapons ban, primarily because he questioned the legality of the process by which it was accomplished. So we should not allow medical marijuana in towns because it might lead to something worse, but leave assault weapons alone?
Those two somewhat opposite positions create a reasonable basis to question how such stances advance the health and well-being of Massachusetts citizens.
North selectmen are taking a month or so to consider their options. That is wise.
Here is hoping they do not succumb to the same politically based fear that has motivated others. Let the process move forward, hold the applicants to high standards, and let legitimate businesses apply for licensing that serves the public.
Unless you’re planning on closing all the bars too.