The November 4 Fall Special Town Meeting in Mattapoisett was set after a citizen’s petition was submitted proposing amendments to the Medical Marijuana Bylaws already in place.
The amendments, if carried, would have allowed the cultivation of marijuana destined not only for medical use, but also for recreational adult use.
The zoning bylaw amendments would not have included any retail medical or recreational sales to have taken place in the town, only the expansion of the cultivation.
Both the Finance Committee and the Planning Board supported the amendments.
Speaking on behalf of the Finance Committee, Chairman Pat Donoghue talked about the financial benefits the town would enjoy through additional tax revenue via a host agreement. She said that the FinCom also supported placing the projected new revenue stream into the town’s stabilization funds to be used for nonrecurring expenses such as Capital Expenses. She confirmed that the committee did not have “any data to establish fiscal trends”, or data that could give insight into the potential for market saturation that might drive down marijuana’s price per pound. In spite of uncertainties, Donoghue said, “It would be prudent for Town Meeting to pass favorably on these articles.”
A few minutes later she added that the potential new revenue could have the positive impact of lowering taxes or allowing the town to spend over the Proposition 2 ½ limits.
Planning Board Chairman Tom Tucker read from a report that detailed the October 7 Planning Board meeting at which time Stu Bronstein, owner of a large vacant warehouse in the Light Industrial zone known as Industrial Drive, proposed the zoning bylaw amendments that would make his building a viable piece of real estate for marijuana cultivation. At that time, he noted that cultivation of medical marijuana alone was not economically feasible.
“We need the recreational piece,” Bronstein had stated.
The Planning Board voted 3 to 1 in favor of the amendments during that meeting.
Representing Bronstein and the 200 petitioners was Attorney Valerio Romano of the Boston-based firm Vincente Sederberg LLP. Romano hit on all the major talking points: job creation, new revenue – which was pegged at over $4 million over a five-year cycle, the security of a cultivation processing plant, and the containment of odors.
Romano said that the amendments gave control to local boards in terms of ensuring that offending odors and other production-related activities would not become a “nuisance” to residential subdivisions.
“This would be a thoughtful approach,” said Romano, adding that the cultivator would have to “jump through lots of hoops” before starting production. “If you do this right, it can be good,” in terms of jobs and revenue, said Romano.
Romano didn’t shy away from the notion held by some that by allowing recreational cannabis cultivation, Mattapoisett’s reputation might suffer a negative impact. He asked if those in attendance thought less of towns nearby that have allowed recreational marijuana businesses to operate. He said that there was no evidence that home values would drop, and asserted they may even go up.
The first of 10 residents to ask questions was James Dildine, a resident of the Bay Club. He said that a quick Internet search found numerous odoriferous problems with marijuana cultivation in California.
“People are enraged,” Dildine claimed. He said that the town’s revenue projections made his eyes “bulge”, and said he was “not comfortable” with the amount of due diligence undertaken by the Finance Committee. He said that the Bay Club was the “goose that laid the golden egg” in terms of property taxes and claimed that those and about 50 other house lots waiting in the pipeline may be negatively impacted by marijuana cultivation.
Several attendees commented on the possibly that if one cultivation facility is permitted then others would follow, and that the town should be looking for others forms of light industrial businesses versus what was being proposed.
But it was Mike Esposito, Ned’s Point Road, who received a resounding round of applause after asking probing questions regarding the host agreement.
As noted on a spreadsheet developed by the Assessors’ Office, the town was projected to receive $360,000 in the third year of an agreement that permitted a cultivation facility in 40,000 square feet of Bronstein’s building. That, in addition to another $55,000 for personal property taxes and $111,625 from real estate taxes, would give the town a total of $527,145. The fourth year, with the facility expanded to 70,000 square feet, that figure would be $1,452,705, and by year five with 100,000 square feet in full production, Mattapoisett could get $2,014,686.
Over a five-year period from start-up to full production, the cumulative revenue was projected to be $4,162,199. But the sticking point was the host agreement.
Esposito explained that that agreement only allowed the town to be compensated for expenses incurred by permitting the cultivation facility. He said that the town would be expected to keep track of additional expenses associated with the growing production plant such as hiring additional police and fire personnel.
“This is not new revenue,” said Espositio, “just a recouping of service expenses…” He also said that there was a bill wending its way through the legislature that would remove hosting agreements altogether.
Town Counsel Kathrine Laughlin said that presently hosting agreements were only based on conjecture, but that it is also a “presumptively responsible fee.” She said that is why most host agreements end after five years but may be renegotiated.
“We are being asked to vote on speculation,” Esposito said.
Putting money matters aside, Attorney Robert Moore, life-long Mattapoisett resident and former police detective, personalized his comments, saying that children follow what they see, not what they are told to do.
“What kind of a town do we want?” he asked. He said that while he respected the work done by volunteers on various town boards, it was “Town Meeting” that set policy. “What price are we willing to sell our town for?” he continued. “Think of our children and forget about the money,” he pleaded.
Two residents rose in support of the amendments based on marijuana’s potential to soothe those suffering in pain or drug addiction.
Charles “Chuck” McIntyre said, “Marijuana is a deterrent to the opioid crisis. There are more dangerous drugs in Mattapoisett than marijuana.” He said people his age want “legal access to marijuana,” and that eventually, the “Baby Boomer” opinion of the current majority would be “irrelevant.”
Frank Sawyer also supported the articles, saying that his wife had benefited from using medical marijuana products and that he simply wanted to give people “a realistic viewpoint” from what he had witnessed with his one loved ones.
For more than an hour and a half, Town Meeting participants opposed to the amendments spoke out, with many wanting more financial details before deciding if marijuana cultivation for recreational use should be…