ORLEANS — Opinion is divided in the community over retail recreational marijuana sales, so it should be no surprise that the planning board couldn’t agree on a town meeting article allowing such businesses.
By a vote of 2 in favor to 3 against, the board decided Tuesday not to support a zoning amendment that would allow two such establishments in Orleans and restrict them to the Limited Business, General Business, or Industrial districts. The voters will have the final say at town meeting on Oct. 31.
In 2018, town meeting voted to prohibit retail sales of recreational marijuana. Faced with the need to find new revenue sources to preserve existing town services, the select board has brought the matter up again and is unanimous in supporting retail pot sales. The finance committee voted 5-2 to recommend passage.
“A substantial number of voters have addressed this issue” at the town meeting, planning board member Chet Crabtree said Tuesday. “They deserve representation, so I am inclined to vote against this provision… I’m pleased we did exclude it from the village center, but nevertheless I plan to vote against it.”
Member Brian Sosner agreed. “We’ve already had this discussion with the town twice,” he said. “I appreciate that my colleagues took the village center out of the discussion, but when you’re coming into town at Exit 12, Exit 13, there are only so many places you can put a retail store. I’m not in favor of a location at Hearth ‘n Kettle. You could have it at the Governor Prence; who knows what would happen.” As for the potential revenue, “I think our elected leaders should look at cutting the budget,” Sosner said. “I think they should have their focus on the restaurants, the hotels, and other businesses to improve their revenues and their tax base.”
The research she has done, member Debra Oakes said, “supports the proposition that medical marijuana stand-alone establishments are not economically viable” without recreational sales, “(and) that many adults of sound mind want and use marijuana for medicinal purposes and shouldn’t have to travel long distances” for purchases. Also, given that Orleans is the commercial hub of the Lower Cape, she said, “it’s not in the best interests of the town for town boards to pick and choose the specific businesses that should operate as long as they’re legal and do not otherwise cause harm.”
Oakes said prohibition of marijuana sales “has done absolutely nothing to stem the devastation of substance abuse by minors and adults. We’re better served by looking for more effective approaches dealing with that issue and not just burying our heads in the sand and thinking, ‘Oh, if only they couldn’t buy marijuana easily.’ I assure you, marijuana is readily available to all the children in this town today.”
Member Dick Hartmann said he’d prefer to send a report of the board’s discussion to town meeting without an up or down vote. The select board, he said, “wants it out there. To me, it’s as simple as people need to vote on it. It’s just our job to get it to them and they can decide. I think we put together a decent compromise.” When pressed, Hartmann said he would vote to recommend.
“I guess it’s down to me,” said Charles Bechtold, who agreed with Hartmann’s preference for leaving the voting to town meeting. “If conditions have changed, so be it… Personally, I still am opposed to having marijuana in town, so my vote would be no.”
Mefford Runyon, the select board’s liaison to the planning board, asked to contribute his perspective. “To me, in this country and this town, nothing is more socially destructive than alcohol,” he said. “To say we don’t want marijuana and not say anything about alcohol is hypocritical. Without going that step and making a statement about substance abuse in general, all this is is some people telling other people what they can buy in this town, and that’s not right.”
The Orleans Citizens Forum is hosting a virtual session on selected town meeting warrant articles Oct. 22 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. via Zoom and over the town’s Channel 18. The webinar ID at the Zoom website will be 884-9850-9170. Listen by phone at 646-558-8656.