“I really don’t think this is a big deal,” Healey said. “There are certain circumstances that have necessitated a little bit more time for certain towns.”
Under state law, municipalities where a majority of residents supported the 2016 ballot measure must return to voters if they want to ban marijuana businesses. By a slight margin, Mansfield voted in favor of legalization. But the moratorium, needed only the approval of Mansfield’s town meeting.
Municipalities that opposed the 2016 initiative may implement bans with a vote of their legislative bodies, such as city councils or town meetings. More than 200 of the state’s 351 municipalities currently have bans or temporary moratoriums in place.
Earlier Wednesday, marijuana advocates rallied outside the State House to protest Healey’s decision, calling on the attorney general to reject any requests by towns to freeze pot licensing into 2019. So far, the attorney general’s office has approved only one other such moratorium, a freeze in Heath through Jan. 31. Five other small communities have moratoriums that extend into 2019 that are being reviewed by Healey.
Meanwhile, a state cannabis commission member objected to Healey’s initial assertion that “ongoing regulatory activity” by state cannabis regulators justified the Mansfield moratorium.
Cannabis commissioner Britte McBride noted the agency’s regulations were finalized in March.
“Communities have the tools right now to move forward in making these decisions and figuring out how cannabis fits into the fabric of their communities,” McBride said.
The commissioner also cautioned both sides in the debate: Municipalities should not use moratoriums as “back-door bans”; meanwhile, too much criticism from advocates, she feared, might convince officials in other communities that an outright ban is a simpler, less politically troublesome path.
“If they really are being thoughtful about zoning, I don’t want people to be scared off by this,” McBride said. “I view this as a single decision, and I think the response to it should be proportional.”