With the Annual Town Meeting less than a month away, selectmen are making a push for an article that would allow the sale of recreational marijuana
It’s time to cash in on recreational marijuana sales in Saugus – or the town is going to keep losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of easy money, according to Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano.
Lynn, Malden, Melrose and other surrounding communities throughout the region have or are getting retail marijuana shops. “All these towns are reaping the benefit of 3 percent of the sales that they are getting from these stores and Saugus doesn’t have any,” Cogliano said at Tuesday night’s (April 5) Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
“I just think that there’s a ton of money out there that we’re not getting that we could certainly use for different projects around town,” he told his colleagues.
Cogliano said he plans to author an article before selectmen close the warrant for this year’s Annual Town Meeting (which convenes on May 2) that would allow retail marijuana shops in town.
“It just doesn’t make any sense that we don’t get one of these shops in Saugus,” Cogliano said in an interview this week.
“I think we’re missing out on upwards of a million dollars or more for the town by not getting involved in marijuana sales. And we need to do something about it,” he said.
Selectmen support pot shops
A majority of the selectmen contacted by The Saugus Advocate said they would support the introduction of an article that would permit the sale of recreational marijuana in the town.
Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini has already embraced the allowance of retail marijuana shops in Saugus as a positive benefit for the town. “As I posted on social media in response to ways the town can generate additional sustainable funding, I feel the time is now for the town to reconsider its stance on recreational marijuana,” Cicolini told The Saugus Advocate this week.
“When the decision was first made to not allow it, the whole concept was new and really hadn’t been tested locally. Since then, we have seen so many new shops open around us in neighboring communities where they are on the border of Saugus. The issue is the other communities are reaping the benefits financially and Saugus gets nothing,” Cicolini said. “We have significant budget issues moving forward with the new vocational school impact, higher tipping fees, increases in utilities and the town needs other forms of revenue and can no longer rely on new growth and the tax levy to maintain level services. I fully support recreational marijuana being allowed in Saugus with an expanded overlay area to define where the shop can be placed.”
Selectman Corinne Riley said she agrees that “it’s time” for the town to allow marijuana shops in town. “I’m fine with it. It’s a good revenue source. As long as it’s not in the neighborhoods, I have no problem with it,” she said.
“I think we’re missing out on a revenue source that other cities and towns are taking advantage of. And I think Saugus should, too,” she said.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta could not be reached for comment. Several emails to her this week went unanswered.
Serino says “put it on the ballot”
Not everyone on the board was supportive of efforts to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in town.
Selectman Michael Serino said the question of whether to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in Saugus ought to be decided by the people of Saugus – not by selectmen or Town Meeting members. “At this point, I get it – people probably want it now,” Serino said in an interview after Tuesday night’s (April 5) Board of Selectmen meeting.
“But where the town voted against it six years ago, I would not support this measure right now. I would have to abide by the people of the community. What I would suggest is put it back on the ballot. And if it passes, I would support it then,” Serino said.
“But right now, I’m going to abide by the wishes of the people who voted for it,” he said.
Rejected by Saugus voters six years ago
In 2016, Saugus voters – by a margin of 53 percent – opposed Question 4, the measure that Massachusetts voters adopted statewide, thus legalizing the sale of commercial marijuana throughout the state. But legislation passed a year later and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker allows towns like Saugus that opposed commercial pot sales to “opt out.” Voters statewide approved Question 4 by a 54-percent margin, allowing the possession, use, distribution and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by persons age 21 and older.
At the Annual Town Meeting of 2018, members voted unanimously without discussion an article that would ban the sale of recreational marijuana. The article amended the town’s zoning by-laws to prohibit “the operation of any marijuana establishment … including, without limitation, a marijuana cultivator, marijuana testing facility, marijuana product manufacturer, marijuana retailer or any other licensed marijuana-related business” in all zoning districts of the town. The prohibition did not apply to the sale, distribution or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes licensed by the state.
Cogliano said it will require a two-thirds vote of the 50-member Town Meeting to overturn the 2018 Town Meeting vote that banned the sales of recreational pot in town.
“The most shops that I think Saugus would get would be two or possibly three. If we go that route, I think two is plenty,” Cogliano said.
“But I don’t want to see it on Cliftondale Square or in Saugus Center or in the neighborhoods. I’d want to see it on Route One where it’s not going to bother anyone,” he said.
Cogliano said he thinks the town “made the right move” back in 2018. “Back then, people were wondering what it was all about and feared that it would not be a good thing,” he said.
“Since then, I’ve gone into a bunch of these places, and I certainly think that they are well-run establishments. I’ve had it on my social media page, and I’ve received nothing but positive comments from people on allowing retail marijuana shops in Saugus,” he said.
Cogliano said he is impressed with the public appetite for the marijuana shops that he has witnessed in recent months. A few months ago on a Friday night just before a weekend snowstorm while traveling through Melrose on Route 99 on his way to dinner, Cogliano said, a line of people “about a hundred long” were waiting to get into a pot shop – a sight similar to people crowding into a grocery store prior to a snowstorm.
If this year’s Annual Town Meeting approves the allowance of recreational marijuana sales, the shops will have to be permitted by selectmen, according to Cogliano.