Today, more than 74 Massachusetts municipalities have banned retail sales of adult-use marijuana, preventing retailers — often referred to as “pot shops” — from opening within city or town limits. The same thing happened after Prohibition, as cities and towns decided to remain “dry,” meaning alcohol sales were not allowed.
Ultimately, over time, the local decisions were largely reversed. It happened most often when an economic boost was needed, according to Schorow, a Medford resident.
“When towns needed revenue, they opened up the liquor laws,” she said. “It stimulated the growth of local restaurants.”
Fast forward 85 years and there are a still a few holdouts. Eight towns remain dry: Alford, Dunstable, Chilmark, Gosnold, Hawley, Montgomery, Westhampton and Mount Washington. Another eight don’t have a single alcohol retailer. But the 16 boozeless communities pale in comparison to the 335 wet ones.
As of March 3, the state counted 12,098 retail liquor licenses, including package stores, restaurants and clubs, according to data shared by the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Per capita, Cape Cod was the “booziest” region, led by Provincetown. The iconic seaside town at the tip of the Cape boasted roughly one liquor license for every 34 residents.
Among towns with at least one liquor license, Boxford was the driest town with one license serving 7,965 residents. The statewide median was one for 575 residents.
Advocates are optimistic something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, will play out with adult-use marijuana, which was approved by Massachusetts voters in 2016. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is considering adult-use marijuana licenses, and commercial retail sales could start as early as July 1.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see that many cannabis licenses, and if you saw half, I’d think it’d be a lot. It’s a product that’s popular, but not nearly as popular as alcohol,” said Jim Borghesani, president of a cannabis-consulting firm called Primepoint Media. “I have no doubt, though, maybe three to five years down the road, we’re going to see the beginning of restaurants and cafes where you can consume on location, just like you can with alcohol,”
On-site and public consumption are prohibited in Massachusetts, although state regulators are slated to consider the issue later this year. Borghesani, who served as communications director for the campaign to legalize adult-use marijuana, said the industry — like the alcohol industry — will succeed over time, especially as the stigma surrounding marijuana diminishes.
“The key to that happening will be the eventual normalization of cannabis as a substance,” he said. “The lingering fear … that’s been part of our society for nearly 100 years will dissipate once the legal market establishes itself, and people will see that their fears are unfounded.”