Faced with the possibility of retail marijuana sales, selectmen in both Chatham and Harwich have opted to take similar approaches. Last week both voted to direct staff to develop zoning and general bylaws to ban marijuana shops, an expected and not altogether unreasonable approach, since voters in both communities rejected the November referendum question legalizing pot sales. In July the state legislature voted to allow officials in towns that voted against legalization to initiate bans, while referendums must be held in communities where the question passed before prohibitions can be enacted.
The local position was never really in any doubt. What was more interesting to us was the way officials in Chatham and Harwich approached the discussion. While Harwich took a hard-line law-and-order tack, Chatham officials more analytical and less hyperbolic.
Harwich Police Chief David Guillimette said legal sales will provide “a haven for drugs.” This position hasn't been borne out in states where marijuana has been legalized. He said candy-like marijuana products would also appeal to children, but in those states where such products are available there has not been a significant statistical increase in the number of children being treated for marijuana overdoses.
In Chatham, members of the board selectmen, while expressing concern for problems legal marijuana sales might bring, felt the bigger problem was how it would reflect on the town's character and image. Pot sales, said Selectman Dean Nicastro, “are inconsistent with the historic character of the town.” Several residents did express more alarmist concerns, including the debunked claim that legal marijuana will increase opioid abuse. A review of marijuana studies by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine showed evidence that marijuana is effective in treatment of chronic pain. While a large percentage of opioid abusers have smoked pot, studies have shown that the liberal prescription of drugs for chronic pain is a bigger factor in opioid abuse, and a John Hopkins study found that deaths from prescription drug overdoses were 25 percent lower in states where medical marijuana is legal.
There are good reasons Chatham and Harwich should prohibit marijuana sales – it certain doesn't jibe with the family friendly image both towns convey – and there's no reason to use “Reefer Madness”-style scare tactics. Almost all of those arguments could be legitimately applied to a legal drug – alcohol – which extracts a far larger toll on the community than marijuana does or will do.