Durham voters face nonbinding questions on marijuana

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DURHAM — The town is looking for input from residents on whether to allow four types of retail marijuana establishments in town.

On Nov. 6, voters will be asked four nonbinding questions regarding the adult use of marijuana and the operation of marijuana stores, marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana manufacturing facilities and marijuana testing facilities.

While it has been legal to possess and grow small quantities of marijuana since 2016, adult-use businesses and how to regulate and license them has been an ongoing conversation, according to the town’s website. Towns are allowed by state law to prohibit retail establishments, but not medical marijuana dispensaries.

Nor does the law address social clubs or have an effect on personal use, as allowed by the state.

Under state law, municipalities have “broad home rule authority … with an ‘opt-in’ provision,” meaning none of the four types of businesses would be legal in Durham unless they are approved by voters in a binding referendum.

According to the town’s website, the Board of Selectmen decided to put the nonbinding questions to voters in November because turnout is expected to be high.

Voters will be asked if they would “support a vote to authorize the operation” of adult use marijuana stores, cultivation facilities, products manufacturing facilities and/or testing facilities, provided they all operate in “compliance with all applicable state and local requirements.”

The voters can show their support for none, one, all or any combination of the four categories. The purpose of the poll is advisory only and will not require the town to opt-in at any point.

While an earlier version of the legalization act set aside some of the taxes collected by the state for municipalities, the version of the bill that was enacted does not, so Durham would not receive money from the state for allowing any or all of the four commercial enterprises.

According to the town’s website, if the vote on any of the categories is favorable, the Board of Selectmen may ask the Planning Board to write ordinances regulating that category, which then would need to go before the voters at Town Meeting or in a referendum.

If the voters, in a future binding vote, authorize the categories and/or approve an ordinance, it would be legal and subject to all regulations and licensing set forth by the (town and state).

Results of the straw poll aren’t expected to be available until Friday, Nov. 9. The town office is closed on Wednesdays, so ballot counts will take place Thursday, Nov. 8.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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