The Barnstable Town Council will likely vote at its Aug. 16 meeting on whether to continue the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and the dangerous black market it has fostered, or instead to implement a safe and smart zoning and regulatory scheme, just as we have now for the more addictive and toxic alcoholic beverages.
In 2016, Massachusetts voters passed the legalization ballot question by a substantial margin, and then in 2017, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to implement the ballot question through a regulatory framework. In Barnstable, voters in six of the 13 precincts voted yes for legalization and ending the black market, with a seventh, Precinct 11, missing by just three votes.
Interestingly, it was the precincts where the majority of the town’s working-class families reside that voted for legalization. It was in precincts 3, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13 - the Hyannis and Marstons Mills villages - where the pro-legalization vote was the strongest. In Precinct 9, 59 percent of Councilor Jim Tinsley’s constituents voted to end cannabis prohibition.
The question now for the Town Council isn’t about whether to allow marijuana in the town. That cat’s already out of the bag. Illegal cannabis is around and has been for decades. Any teenager will tell you it’s much easier to get pot now than alcohol or cigarettes. The only difference is that currently people purchase their pot from drug dealers who don’t check IDs and don’t pay taxes.
If the Town Council does the smart thing and votes to regulate cannabis sales, just as the towns of Brewster, Orleans and Plymouth are doing, a maximum of three retail stores would be allowed. And each of those stores would be required to have much more security and less advertising than is the case for the 24 packages stores, dozens of restaurants and numerous pharmacies currently permitted in town.
The Town Council should allow a well-regulated cannabis market place to come to Barnstable; the financial and public health benefits of doing so would substantially outweigh any potential detriments.
As shown by the eight other states that have already legalized marijuana, teen use hasn’t increased, crime rates haven’t gone up, traffic fatalities caused by marijuana use haven’t increased, opioid deaths and alcohol sales are down and tax revenues are greater than expected.
The prohibitionists, with their reefer-madness-fueled fear-mongering, have had almost 100 years to try to stop marijuana use and have failed miserably, causing great harm by their actions, especially to communities of color. Banning cannabis in Barnstable won’t stop Barnstable residents and others from buying and using cannabis in town or make them any safer. It’ll just force them to continue using the dangerous black market, keeping it alive and flourishing, or send them to towns like Brewster, giving that town the hundreds of thousands of dollars of annual tax revenue and the jobs that should rightly be going to Barnstable.
Richard Elrick of Centerville is a former member of the Barnstable Town Council.