HARWICH — Voters Tuesday night took several steps to ensure recreational marijuana will not be sold within Harwich's borders by approving a zoning provision that bans all types of non-medical marijuana establishments in all zoning districts in the community.
The ban includes marijuana cultivators, independent testing laboratories, product manufacturers, retailers and other types of licensed marijuana-related businesses. The zoning provision needed a two-thirds majority vote and was approved by a 184-48 margin on the second and final night of the annual town meeting.
Police Chief David Guillemette said there is no clear evidence retail pot sales is good idea, and in other states where it has been allowed for a longer period there is contrary evidence. He said such sales would make marijuana and THC through edibles readily available to the youth of the community.
He said there is science that shows increased use of marijuana can change the brain chemistry of youthful users and predispose them to addiction. Guillemette said three deaths in the community in the past three months were caused by opioid overdoses.
“It's not a public safety issue, it's a community issue,” he said. Retail sales will draw more users into the community and increase the likelihood of people operating motor vehicles under the influence.
Sebastian Mudry said there are medical benefits of marijuana. He said his brother was in the Vietnam War and smoked marijuana, and when he came back he was habituated and smoked pot daily for 15 years but was never stoned. It mellowed him out, he said.
Bob Weiser asked the police chief how many citations were issued under a regulation put in place several years ago relating to public use of marijuana. Weiser wanted to know if there are more citations issued for open containers of alcohol. Guillemette agreed that was the case. Weiser said marijuana is on the decline and he took issue with the statement it is a gateway drug for opioid. Weiser said street drugs are dangerous and it would be better to have a regulated, tested and controlled system of sale.
Voters also approved a general bylaw banning the sale of marijuana in the community and extended a moratorium on retail sale of marijuana. The moratorium put in place last year was extended to Dec.31 and will give the town time to correct provisions should there be an issue when the zoning is reviewed by the Attorney General's Office.
Voters put in place a new affordable housing trust to expedite the town's ability to partner with private developers and convert existing housing to affordable housing. The trust received $500,000 in a subsequent Community Preservation Act vote, which includes funds to hire a part-time coordinator. Voters also approved $300,000 in CPA funds to support Habitat for Humanity's six-unit development in West Harwich.
The town used CPA funds to participate in two large open space and conservation acquisitions. The purchase or acquisition by eminent domain of the 24.6-acre Judah Eldredge property off Seth Whitefield Road for $369,000 was approved, as was another $200,000 to purchase a conservation restriction in conjunction with the Harwich Conservation Trust on the 15-acre Cornelius Pond property.
CPA funds in the amount of $650,000 will be used for an alum remediation treatment project at Hinckley's Pond, and $75,000 from the appropriation will be used to enhance public access to the pond from the nearby bike trail. Voters also approved $300,000 in CPA fund to be added to funds previously appropriated for the preservation work on the exterior facade of Brooks Free Library.