Grassroots campaigns combat bans, moratoriums on marijuana

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This article was originally published by the Boston Business Journal: Grassroots campaigns combat bans, moratoriums on marijuana.


Not long after voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, towns on the Cape starting putting up roadblocks. Dennis voted to ban recreational marijuana stores, while Barnstable, Yarmouth, Harwich, Orleans, Eastham and Mashpee all voted on temporary moratoriums.

Spencer Knowles — a Cape resident who co-founded a grassroots pro-marijuana campaign called Regulate Cape Cod this past August — said he wanted "smart and safe recreational regulations," which in his view means proving enough stores in the Cape to prevent illegal sales from dominating the market. So he set out on a grassroots campaign to bring public awareness to the drug.

“We all said, 'Let’s do something about this, let’s engage these towns, (and) let’s engage the residents, as everything will be done in town meeting',” Knowles said in an interview.

Still in its infancy, Regulate Cape Cod has so far had some success — preventing a ban and moratorium in Brewster through a vigorous campaign that included digital voter targeting, phone calls, information sessions and mailings.

The effort is what pot advocates hope is a road map to defeating local opposition to marijuana, which is often led by selectmen or local officials such as police chiefs. Beyond Brewster, local advocates helped stave off anti-marijuana legislation in Amesbury and Peabody as well. Advocates with Yes on 4, the group that helped pass the recreational marijuana initiative in the state, assisted with the campaign in Amesbury and spoke against a ban that ultimately failed in Peabody.

“The more people see the success in Brewster, and to a lesser extent Amesbury, they will think we can do this in our town and we should,” said Jim Borghesani, communications director for Yes on 4. “That’s what we’re hoping. Knowledge will drive more successful efforts.”

Yet pot advocates still have an uphill battle. According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, 40 communities in Massachusetts have passed a ban on marijuana. Another 80 communities have enacted a temporary moratorium. Geoff Beckwith, executive director and CEO of the MMA, said most communities with a moratorium put one in place to give the town enough time to develop zoning laws before licenses are set to be issued in April.

The success in Brewster has left town officials, who initially put the moratorium and ban on the town meeting agenda, in a rush to develop zoning regulations before the state can start accepting applications. Michael Embury, Brewster's Town Administrator, said the Planning Board has had to meet more frequently and the town will have to host a special town meeting in March to approve such regulations.

Embury said campaigns like the pro-marijuana one in his town are highly emotional and there's a lot of misinformation.

"If you want something passed or banned, you pack a town meeting," Embury said. "This was a similar instance of that. That’s a weakness (of town meeting) as I see it."

Regulate Cape Cod has now turned its attention to Mashpee and Barnstable, part of a strategic vision Knowles has to make sure at least four access points throughout the Cape will service residents and the influx of tourists.

The group is hoping to start a fundraising campaign as it recruits more members, and so far has recruited former town officials, former law enforcement officers and business leaders concerned about illegal marijuana.

“People want to know can you do the same thing in Harwich, or this town?” Knowles said. “We’re small and nimble, but we have a strategic vision we need to be focused on based on the reality.”

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So when does legal recreational cannabis come to Cape Cod? That's a good question! There's two major projects going on to ensure this lucrative and innovative industry doesn't skip over Cape Cod:

Barnstable Smart & Safe Cannabis Zoning Project

Brewster Smart & Safe Cannabis Zoning Project

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