Bans and Moratoria on the Rise in Massachusetts

Months before the first adult-use cannabis operators are eligible to apply for licenses, a significant number of cities and towns are passing (1) temporary moratoria on local zoning approvals of any such facilities; or (2) permanent outright bans.  According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, 39 municipalities have thus far enacted temporary moratoria, while at least 10 have passed outright prohibitions.  “Dozens” more municipalities are expected to vote on such measures soon. There are 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

The distinction is this: moratoria are allowed under Massachusetts law so municipalities may have time to study the issues. Typically, during the moratorium period, a municipality will adopt zoning ordinance bylaws that regulate the location of facilities and allow for an orderly local permitting process. It is not inconceivable that municipalities that have adopted moratoria will attempt to place the issue of an outright permanent ban before the voters during the moratorium period.  However, our best advice if you have interest in a site in a municipality that has passed a moratorium is to work closely with City officials in this time period. A moratorium is not necessarily a negative: it’s simply a “time out.”

On the other hand, an outright ban is pretty much “game over.” Under Chapter 334 of the Acts of 2016, while elected officials (i.e., City Councils or Boards of Selectmen) may not impose a ban, the voters may do so after a citywide or townwide ballot. That is what has occurred in at least 10 municipalities, with more on the horizon. In that sense, it seems that the mechanism for appropriate delegation of local control to the voters is working as intended.

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