Walking the line on pot

May 25, 2017

The border war between Lynnfield and Peabody this week was over almost before it began but the tussle between two neighbors has wide implications for the medical and recreational marijuana siting decisions.

Peabody Mayor Edward Bettencourt is no fan of marijuana sales in Peabody and he made sure the city’s medical marijuana zone got stuck out on Route 1 North. The border war ignited over a parcel in the zone abutting South Lynnfield’s Green Street neighborhood.

The town’s Board of Selectmen fired off a letter to the mayor and Bettencourt — a savvy elected official who is fast on his feet — quickly labeled the offending parcel a “hardship” from Lynnfield’s viewpoint and yanked it out of the zone.

Medical marijuana advocates and the coalition that campaigned for recreational marijuana last year understood that successful cannabis sales and marketing depends on saturating local markets. Language barring cities and towns from banning marijuana is a key element of the legislative language included in the 2016 pot legalization ballot questions.

Local officials retain control under the legislative language to regulate marijuana. Some communities, including Peabody and Lynnfield, have made it clear they don’t want recreational marijuana within their borders but their resistance is going to have to withstand marketplace demands.

Peabody and Lynnfield clear the air

In other words, communities resistant to marijuana sales locally will find their position increasingly difficult to hold once recreational marijuana follows on the heels of medical marijuana and pot dealers set up shop in cities and towns.

But their inability to keep marijuana beyond city and town limits won’t prevent local officials from consigning pot zones to municipal borders. Highways skirting communities and industrial zones on the edges of communities are often havens for strip clubs and other businesses deemed undesirable by the local powers that be.

But Bettencourt can attest to the friction created when one community’s pot zone becomes a neighboring community’s hardship. Border wars like the one this week between Lynnfield and Peabody are going to spark and ignite and the flames might incinerate some political career and the goodwill shared by the feuding communities.

Of course, money changes everything and legal marijuana dealers may find the best way to avoid making enemies in one community — maybe two — is to talk dollars and cents with local leaders. Legal pot is here to stay in Massachusetts but the disputes rising from its presence loom on the horizon.