NEWBURYPORT – With less than a month to go before residents head to the polls to decide whether to allow retail sales of cannabis, those against the idea and those for it recently launched campaigns to sway voters to their respective sides.
The ballot question to be considered by voters in the city's general election Nov. 5 has led to complaints over its wording as some people believe it could cause confusion.
A "yes" vote would favor the zoning ordinance that says marijuana retailers "shall be prohibited within the city of Newburyport." A "no" vote is against the prohibition, indicating the voter is in favor of allowing retail marijuana sales in Newburyport in previously designated areas.
The vote will not affect the sale, distribution, manufacture or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.
The ballot question, approved by the City Council in December, comes about three years after Massachusetts residents voted to legalize adult recreational marijuana. Newburyport residents voted 54 percent to 46 percent in favor back in 2016.
Sierra Gitlin, leader of the Facebook group Adult Use Cannabis Newburyport, unveiled a new group, Newburyport Cannabis Action Network (Newburyport CAN) two weeks ago.
Around the same time, Opt Out Newburyport, another Facebook-based group, announced it was seeking volunteers to distribute a flyer it assembled that lists its concerns with retail pot sales.
The flyer highlights what Opt Out Newburyport considers false revenue projections for the city and potentially damaging consequences for Newburyport neighborhoods.
"In Newburyport, there is no good location for selling recreational pot that doesn't end up near a residential neighborhood, grocery store, school, daycare, playground, park or rail trial. Do you want a pot shop next to Market Basket or Haley's Ice Cream?" the flyer reads.
In September 2018, the City Council voted to allow retail marijuana shops at the Route 1 traffic circle and on portions of Storey Avenue.
Retail marijuana shops are already operating across the region, including in next-door Salisbury. In September, Alternative Therapies Group opened its doors on Elm Street and, according to Salisbury police, there have been no issues in terms of traffic jams, long lines or people camping out overnight.
"None of those things are happening, so I think that calms a lot of people," Gitlin said.
Gitlin said she founded the group after realizing there wasn't a place for the public to get "good information" on the issue.
"There's a lot of misinformation and mythology being promoted around town as fact and fear mongering," Gitlin said, adding that as of Oct. 8, there were 70 people in the group.
It was hoped that both sides would argue their cases on the internet radio program Local Pulse, which had organized a forum to be held Tuesday at the Senior Community Center. But on Wednesday, Local Pulse host Joe DiBiase announced Opt Out Newburyport pulled out, which prompted him to cancel the forum.
DiBiase said he received an email from Opt Out Newburyport a day earlier stating they "decided not to participate."
"I'm disappointed," DiBiase said.
Gitlin also expressed her disappointment and surprise that the forum was axed.
"We were ready, willing, and able to participate on behalf of Newburyport CAN and the majority of voters who approved Question 4 in 2016. We were looking forward to a healthy debate, and to clearing up some of the myths and misconceptions out there," Gitlin said, referring to the state vote that legalized recreational marijuana.
In an email, Opt Out Newburyport leader Lynn Schow said she looked forward to "continued discussion up through the election" but did not address why she pulled out of the forum.
"I'm thrilled that we've generated real discussion about what retail recreational pot shops would mean for Newburyport. Many have gotten in touch with us to share their concerns with these shops," Schow wrote in her email.
As for the vote itself, Gitlin said most residents have already made up their minds. In that sense, her group is a way of making sure people get to the polls on Nov. 5.
"It's not about convincing people, it's more of a reminder," she said.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.
POT OPPONENTS, PROPONENTS
A copy of Opt Out Newburyport's flyer can be found on its Facebook page: facebook.com/optoutnbpt/.
For more information on Newburyport CAN, visit its website: newburyportcan.org.