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Attorney General finally approves marijuana-related amendments passed at Town Meeting

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  The state Attorney General’s Office has approved a measure passed earlier this year by the Annual Town Meeting which allows the sale of recreational marijuana.

  “Based upon our standard of review, we approve the marijuana related amendments adopted under Article 36,” Assistant Attorney General Nicole B. Caprioli wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to Town Clerk Ellen Schena. “However, the Town must ensure that the by-laws are applied consistent with state law and Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) regulations,” wrote Caprioli, who is assigned to the attorney general’s Municipal Law Unit.

  In addition, Caprioli said the town should monitor a pending Land Court case involving the City of Malden and should also consult with town counsel with any questions.

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate he is “thrilled with the AG’s decision.” “Long overdue in my opinion, but better late than never,” Cogliano said.

  He praised Selectmen Jeffrey Cicolini and Corinne Riley for supporting the article. He also thanked Precinct 2 Town Meeting member Joseph John Vecchione IV for drafting the article and all of the Town Meeting members that voted to adopt the zoning change.

  “This will generate millions in much needed new revenue each year for our town,” Cogliano predicted.

  Selectman Cicolini hailed the AG’s approval of the bylaw as “great news for Saugus.” “We can now establish a process for companies to apply for the available licenses and we can choose the ones that will provide the best combination of economic benefit and geographic location in Saugus and ideally will choose from companies with the best reputation and track record in the industry,” Cicolini said.

  “This revenue stream will add much needed revenue to the town and allow us to share in the economic benefit that all of our neighboring communities have been reaping the benefit of for some time,” he said.

  In its seven-page decision, the Attorney General’s Office noted opposition from a Town Meeting member who asserted that an amendment to delete the buffer zone requirements from residential districts and places of worship “broadened the area that would be included under the zoning amendment” for the location of a marijuana establishment. But the attorney general determined that the vote under Article 36 as amended was within the scope of the warrant article.

  Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said the town has received “dozens of inquiries regarding marijuana dispensaries.”

  “The Selectmen, along with the Town Manager, will need to set criteria in order to vet each applicant that comes before us,” Panetta said.

  Selectman Corinne Riley said she is pleased that the Attorney General approved the article regulating marijuana establishments in Saugus as it has already done in surrounding communities. “There are protections in place so that establishments will not be in residential districts, or near schools, parks, or playgrounds. This is a new and recurring source of significant revenue for the town, and adds no burden to town resources like schools, water, sewer, police, fire, etc.,” Riley said.

  “I understand that not everyone wants marijuana in Saugus, but the fact is that it is already here, and readily available, literally on our doorsteps, with shops on the Melrose town line on Route 99, and the Lynn town line on Boston Street. Anyone that wants access to marijuana in and around Saugus already has it, so a ‘NO’ vote on this issue wasn’t going to keep marijuana out of Saugus,” Riley said.

  “It’s easy to complain about increasing property taxes and lack of operational funding for schools, DPW, and staffing for a third fire station, but it takes creativity and leadership to bring in new recurring revenue sources without hitting the taxpayer,” Riley said. “I am glad to have supported this issue, and that Town Meeting supported it by a two-thirds vote, and that the Attorney General approved it as well. I look forward to Saugus finally realizing its fair share of marijuana tax dollars.”

  At this year’s Annual Town Meeting, members voted 31-13 (with five members absent) for Article 36 – an amendment to the town’s Zoning Bylaws to allow for marijuana establishments in town. The Annual Town Meeting voted unanimously in 2018 for an article that banned the operation of any marijuana retail establishments in town. But much has changed over the last four years – particularly a decline in town revenue in the midst of two-plus years of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic – which contributed to Town Meeting’s overwhelming approval of an article that allows for the recreational sale of marijuana.

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