The City Council adopted an ordinance on Monday to put a marijuana retail ballot question in the November 2019 municipal election.
After more than three hours of discussion and debate councilors voted 6 in favor, 4 opposed and 1 abstention to adopt the ballot question, with Councilors Larry Giunta, Thomas O’Brien, Heather Shand, Sharif Zeid, Jared Eigerman and Joe Devlin in favor. Councilors Afroz Khan, Greg Earls, Bruce Vogel and Barry Connell voted against, while Charlie Tontar abstained.
The ordinance, sponsored by Giunta, of Ward 5, and O’Brien, of Ward 6, creates a special election ballot question for next November giving residents the option to vote for or against the prohibition of the retail sale or consumption of marijuana at any business location in the city. The ordinance would not apply to marijuana cultivation sites or medical marijuana facilities.
Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana in the 2016 presidential election. Because Newburyport residents voted in favor of the legalization, 55 percent to 45 percent, the city was expected to begin allowing retail marijuana this past summer.
But soon after the council voted in September to allow retail marijuana shops near the Route 1 traffic circle and on portions of Storey Avenue, dozens of residents assembled to create an “opt out movement” with the goal of convincing councilors to give the city a ballot referendum on retail marijuana sales. In the months since, the ballot question has become a divisive issue among residents, many of whom have also come forward in opposition to a ballot referendum.