NEWBURYPORT — Ward 5 Councilor Larry Giunta submitted paperwork Wednesday that sets in motion a potential City Council vote before the end of the year to do away with the city’s two retail marijuana store zones.
The paperwork, also signed by Ward 6 Councilor Thomas O’Brien and Councilor at-large Barry Connell, came to City Clerk Richard Jones’ office about 24 hours after residents voted 52% to 48% to ban local retail marijuana shops.
Tuesday’s vote was the result of a ballot question authored by Opt Out Newburyport, the local group spearheaded by High Street resident Lynn Schow. Opposition to the ballot question was led by Newburyport Cannabis Action Network.
Giunta said now that voters have spoken, the City Council is required to take action.
“Our city solicitor has told us that state law requires the City Council to affirm and enact the wishes of the voters. I have proposed ordinances that are worded exactly the same as the ballot question. The other proposals would clean up our municipal code and return it to where it was when this process started, ensuring that there are no conflicts that could cause future problems,” Giunta said in an emailed statement.
The paperwork includes two ordinances. The first would amend the city’s ordinance allowing retail marijuana shops. The second would do away with the two zones selected for those shops.
In October 2018, the City Council voted to zone retail marijuana shops at the Route 1 traffic circle and on portions of Storey Avenue. Giunta and O’Brien voted against the zoning.
The new ordinances would not “apply to the sale, distribution, manufacture or cultivation” of marijuana for medical purposes.
Jones said the new ordinances, by law, must be sent for further deliberation by the Planning Board and a City Council subcommittee and then advertised in print for 14 days before the City Council could vote on the matter. That timetable will likely place pressure on the council to act one way or the other before new city councilors are sworn in in early January.
Giunta and Jones are stepping down and will be replaced by James McCauley in Ward 5 and Byron Lane in Ward 6.
Jones said a first reading of the new ordinances could take place at the City Council’s meeting Dec. 9. A second reading would then need to be scheduled before a formal vote.
Giunta said it was feasible to get through all the required steps and vote on his proposals by the end of the year.
“I have already spoken with the city clerk, City Council president (Barry Connell), and planning director (Andrew Port) to make the necessary arrangements. The current sitting City Council has dealt with this issue from the start and has an obligation to see it through. Doing so will provide closure for the voters,” Giunta said in his email.
That Giunta and O’Brien would be sponsoring a bill to get rid of the city’s two zoned areas for retail marijuana should come as no surprise considering their voting records and the fact that both their wards voted in favor of banning retail marijuana shops Tuesday.
“I was proud of being part of the process to put this question on the ballot. It was important that people had the opportunity to vote directly on this local issue. The debate and the vote are now behind us. It's time to move forward, together,” Giunta’s emailed statement reads.
But despite Connell announcing last week he would also vote “yes” on the ballot question, his voting record shows his view has likely changed since the debate began.
In addition to voting in favor of establishing the two retail marijuana zones last year, he also voted against the ordinance that put the marijuana question on Tuesday’s ballot.
Calls to Connell for comment were not returned in time for this edition.
A call to Newburyport CAN spokesperson Brianna Sullivan for comment on Giunta’s bill was not returned.