Massachusetts Commercial Marijuana — How to “Opt-Out” — An Action Plan

How to Opt Out of Commercial Recreational MarijuanaCommercial Recreational Marijuana Opt-Out Action Plan

UPDATE May 13, 2018: It is becoming increasingly important to act quickly if your community wants any measure of local control over commercialized, recreational marijuana establishments. The temptation to ban just retail establishments and to allow cultivation and testing is to be avoided.

If it is believed that the sale of this drug is in not keeping with your prevention goals and in conflict with the character of your community, then it is hypocritical to allow it to be grown and taxed in your community and then exported for sale to your neighbors. The pot lobby is actively promoting and over promising possible tax benefits. Oversupply in Oregon has caused a dramatic price collapse. [“How do you move mountains of unwanted weed?”] Taxes are tied to revenue which is tied to price. As prices collapse, so does your tax revenue. Your costs escalate regardless. Your town is likely to get very little in revenue to offset regulation, inspection and enforcement of these establishments, let alone undo ill effects of increased youth and adult use. Where there is more pot, more kids use. Some revenue is not worth taking.

UPDATE: April 20, 2018–Added links to public service announcement, parental advisory ad, local town opt-out page.

UPDATE: November 16, 2017: Updates include addition of the excellent opt-out language passed by Longmeadow; and a link to a video of testimony to Bridgewater Town Council: “Commercial Marijuana Opt Out | What Every Elected Official Should Consider”

UPDATE: October 31, 2017–Having received an interpretation from Beacon Hill we have updated this post to once again advise that both a General Bylaw and Zoning Bylaw with identical language be voted on by your community’s legislative body. Nowhere in the recreational marijuana law does it explicitly require a Zoning Bylaw as the confirming action of a local legislative body. Therefore a General Bylaw, only requiring a simple majority vote (51%) is believed to be sufficient to confirm a community’s desire to Opt-Out or ban recreational marijuana establishments. Zoning Bylaws require a super majority (2/3 affirmative) vote to pass. It is recommended, out of an abundance of caution, that your community in addition to voting a General Bylaw vote on a Zoning Bylaw (after voting on the General Bylaw). Regardless of the outcome of the vote on the Zoning Bylaw, the General Bylaw is expected to be sufficient to uphold an Opt-Out intention of a community.

UPDATE: October 9, 2017–After the passage of House Bill No. 3818 that became the recreational marijuana law in July 2017, the process for opting out of commercial recreational marijuana activity has changed slightly since Westborough became the first of about 30 communities to do so before this compromise law was signed by Governor Baker. A growing number of more than 100 communities have either Opted-Out or have passed moratoriums on recreational, commercial marijuana establishments citing among their reasons:

The law applies differently to each community based on whether that community voted in opposition (No On Q4 Community) or support (Yes on Q4 Community) of ballot Question 4 in November 2016.

Here is our understanding now based on information from the Massachusetts Municipal Association:

No On Q4 Communities:
Communities who voted “No” on Q4 in Nov 2016 have until December 31, 2019 to Opt-Out of recreational marijuana commerce (after that date they must follow the same procedure for Yes on Q4 communities).

These communities are required to prevail on one vote to OptOut locally (since local voters already voted against commercial marijuana in Fall 2016, enabling further local legislative action to Opt Out):

  1. a vote of the local legislative body to approve a zoning ordinance or bylaw Opting Out.
    (For example, the City of Lawrence is a No on Q4 Community that has Opted-Out by virtue of a unanimous vote of their City Council).

Yes on Q4 Communities:
Communities with “Yes” on Q4 majority votes in Fall of 2016 are required to prevail on two votes to OptOut locally:

  1. a vote of the voters at the ballot box, enabling:
  2. a vote of the local legislative body to approve a general bylaw or ordinance and (optionally) a zoning or bylaw Opting Out.

On opting out in a Yes on Q4 Community, the MA Municipal Association opinion of their lawyers is that based on the law (House 3818), passage of a ballot question is only an “enabling” action, that gives authority to the local legislative body to go through the process of adopting a zoning by-law.

Their opinion, and that of MA town counsels, is based on subsection (e) of Section 3:

(e) If an ordinance or by-law must be submitted for approval pursuant to subsection (a)(2), the following procedures will be followed:

(1) The city solicitor or town counsel shall prepare a fair and concise summary of the proposed ordinance or by-law which will make clear the number and types of marijuana establishments which will be permitted to operate under the proposed ordinance and by-law and shall be included on the ballot.

(2) A ballot shall be prepared asking “Shall this [city or town] adopt the following [by-law or ordinance]? [solicitor/counsel summary] [full text of by-law or ordinance]

(3) If the majority of the votes cast in answer to the question are in the affirmative, the city or town may adopt the by-law or ordinance, but if the majority is in the negative, the city or town shall not adopt the by-law or ordinance.

A ballot question under this subsection may be placed on the ballot at a regular or special election held by the city or town by a vote of the board of selectmen or city or town council, with the approval of the mayor, and subject to a municipal charter, if applicable.


How to Proceed:

Step 1: Check this list to find out if your community was one of the 90 “No On Q4 Communities” in November 2016. Follow the requirements for either a “No on Q4” or “Yes on Q4” community listed above.

Step 2: Figure out who your local legislative body is: City Council? Town Council? Town Meeting?

Step 3: Figure out who puts General Bylaws (usually Selectmen or Council) and Zoning Ordinances or Bylaws (usually Planning Board) on the council agenda or town warrant for a vote.

IMPORTANT:*The requirement that a zoning bylaw be adopted by a community’s legislative body is NOT explicitly written in the recreational marijuana law. Therefore a General Bylaw requiring a 51% majority vote should be first on the warrant. The General Bylaw is understood to be sufficient on its own to ban recreational commercial marijuana establishments.  As a belt-and-suspenders approach the general bylaw could be followed on the warrant by an identically worded Zoning Bylaw that will require a 2/3 majority vote.

Step 4: Adapt and Implement the Following Action Plan:

  1. Assemble a small group of concerned citizens
    • include mothers in your community.
  2. Consult & Educate Counsel
    Your Town or City Counsel (lawyer) may not be up to date on the need and reasons for strong prevention-based policy and may additionally need to be directed to the Mass. Municipal Association for assistance in understanding the legal options available to your community to act. Meet with and educate Counsel on all you are learning about the marijuana industry, THC harms, and the impact of permissive policy on youth and general population use.
  3. Request agenda item at Board of Selectmen or Council meeting:
    Request to Approve Placing a Question on the (date) Town Ballot and on the (date) Annual Town Meeting Warrant Amending the General Bylaws and another amending Zoning Bylaws

    • See Westborough Ballot Language
      Because the law was unclear, Westborough, on advice of counsel, took a conservative approach and passed both and General Bylaw and a Zoning Bylaw prohibiting commercial recreational marijuana uses. *(Note: It is believed that just a General Bylaw is sufficient to prohibit recreational commercial marijuana establishments and that voting on a Zoning Bylaw provides additional assurance. It is recommended that your community do both. Here is the language used by Westborough for both:

    • Longmeadow, which Opted-Out in November, used this excellent language:
      “All marijuana cultivators, marijuana testing facilities, marijuana product manufacturers, marijuana retailers, on-site consumption at a business location, any other types of licensed marijuana-related businesses, and the conducting of any such activity for commercial purposes by whichever name used, shall be prohibited within the Town of Longmeadow,”
    • Put revenue potential into context–Some revenue is not worth taking
    • Remind them of their role as leaders as it relates to messages we wish to send to our citizens and particularly our youth. The message they send in regard to these uses will shape how youth feel about the products being promoted by these uses.Educate Your Selectmen
  4. Educate Planning Board
    • Educate them on the Precautionary Principle and how it has been used to guide decision making on this issue before. “Act to do the least harm.”
    • Remind them of the purpose of zoning–“prevent new development from interfering with existing uses and/or to preserve the “character” of a community.” Remind them of how you see the character of the community.
    • Remind them of their roll as “planners”. This means to act early and out of precaution–rules can be relaxed if the State truly acts to tighten the marijuana law. They are not “reactors”.
    • Potential revenue will be one driver for this group–Show them the money
    • Here is a video of example testimony before the Westborough Planning Board’s March 16, 2017 Meeting
  5. Educate Finance Committee
    • Potential revenue will be a big driver for this group–Show them the money–some revenue is not worth taking and question it’s value in the context of the total budget and the character of the community.
  6. Understand Your Voter Education Needs
    • This is important because voters need to understand the law (mandatory to host unless choose to opt-out, no limit on number of establishments)
    • Does not affect Medical Marijuana–only about Commercial Recreational.
    • Does not affect adults rights to use and possess as allowed and limited in the law.
    • “Yes to Opt-Out” is confusing to the voter
    • Voters are generally not up to date on risks of THC use: pot of today: potency, edibles, teen use increases, drugged driving monitoring difficult, links to psychosis, marketing to children
    • Multiple votes may be necessary: 1 at town ballot and 2 at Town Meeting (1 to amend General Bylaws and another to amend Zoning Bylaws).
    • Consider adapting Westborough Voter Education Guide
  7. Identify Your Target group of Voters
    • Dedicated Town Meeting Voters–Get list of names and addresses from your Town Clerk records.
    • Target these with Post Card mailings (Note: The Lollipop image was purchased from istock. Individual groups should make their own purchase at istock $12 #490476918):
      • Mailing 1 (two weeks before election):
      • Mailing 2 (one week before election):
      • (Note: you can access the editable PowerPoint files for these postcards here for your use).
    • Moms (they care about their children’s health and well-connected in town)
  8. Identify and educate at your community’s centers of activities
  9. Identify a social media contact person
  10. Consider setting up an Opt-Out Facebook Page
    • See Westborough Opt Out on Facebook
  11. Consider setting up a website
  12. Reach dedicated voters, who may be outside mom-network and social media
    • Use Postcard Mailing (see above)
  13. Reach out to your own friends and acquaintances through email
    • Consider Using Email (see “Example Emails” at the bottom of this page)
  14. Hold an Educational Info Session
    • Advertise event through local media, cable channel, personal email, social media, and posters.
    • Start with video, “Then and Now”
    • Show all or part of this brain science powerpoint
    • Invite questions and testimony of attendees
    • Empower attendees to spread the word
  15. Reach Out to Faith Community
    • Reach out to faith leaders who are very concerned and see first hand the impact of the addiction epidemic on their communities and families. For example, this statement from the Pontifical Academy of Science was shared with faith leaders in Westborough. Consequently they encouraged parishioners to vote on this issue at the local election and Town Meeting. The faith community was instrumental in the successful opt-out effort in the City of Lawrence.
  16. For Town Ballot Day: Voter education
    • This is important: the ballot question is confusing to the voters.
      • Remind them to “Vote Yes to Opt-Out.”–on both the General Bylaw AND the Zoning Bylaw
      • Hand out Vote Yes Reminder Cards
    • Consider hand-held signs. Westborough’s were made using PowerPoint and printed locally. Medfield used hand made signs:
  17. For Town Meeting or Council Meeting: Communications
    • Consider another postcard mailing  (one week before Town Meeting):
    • Consider Assembling Phone Text Tree: identify those interested in coming to vote at Town Meeting (or to speak in favor of the opt-out vote before City or Town Council) but discouraged by the time commitment and send a text alert as to when the articles will be discussed.
  18. Prepare Speakers for Town Meeting or Council Meeting
    • Be prepared to stand and say “I rise in support of this article and in support of opting out of commercial marijuana uses in our community.”
    • Motivate others in your community to prepare comments and speak from their respective areas of experience. In Westborough and Milford and Medfield, we had:
      • Doctors, lawyers, business people, biotech executives, youth and faith leaders, parents of those affected by addiction, just regular parents concerned about trends in our high schools,  local law enforcement and local elected officials.
      • Here are the links to Westborough Town Meeting floor action. Article 32 starts in video Part 3 just after 55.00.
        It continues in video Part 4, with a long technical correction as part of the discussion you can skip ahead to more pro/con testimony.


Additional Education Materials
Fact Sheet

This is America on Legal Drugs. Do we want use rates going up, along with harms?

Marijuana in Colorado: The State of High SAM Educational Briefs & Data on Marijuana Policy, February 2017

Know the Facts: Marijuana Commercialization

Marijuana and Adolescent Brain Development

BONUS: Protecting Our Children’s Future

SMART Colorado – Protect Youth from Commercialized Marijuana

Massachusetts Municipal Association on Local Control under the Massachusetts Marijana Law

Home New – SAM:

Learn More About Legalization in Colorado and Washington:

Pueblo Physicians Code Red – Dr. Steven Simerville:

Pueblo Physicians Code Red: Dr. Karen Randall Presenting:

Pueblo Physicians Code Red – Dr. Elizabeth Stuyt:

Pueblo Physicians Code Red – Dr. Chris Nevin-Woods:

Environmental impacts of marijuana grow sites:

Marijuana’s hidden price: Environmental impact — ScienceDaily:

Burgeoning Marijuana Market Prompts Concerns about Crop’s Environmental Impact – Scientific American:

The Landscape-Scarring, Energy-Sucking, Wildlife-Killing Reality of Pot Farming – Mother Jones:

Everything you need to know about pot’s environmental impact | Grist:

How Marijuana Farms Impact The Environment:


Notes and Tips

Educational Session Poster: We used this to advertise our informational session at the library. If we were to do it again, I would suggest removing the OptOut email address. Without the email address, the poster stood as purely educational. With the email address, our informational session was viewed as political and limited are advertising options.

Flyer in Color: distributed at parent pick-up, shopping areas, sporting events, and to approximately 1000-1200 parishioners at all Catholic masses as permitted.
Flyer Front is our information, Flyer Back is an educational piece from SAM.

Signage: printed on core foam 11×17 and attached painter stick as a handle, used on voting day
Two Signs: Keep Out Pot Shops and Opt Out to Keep Out

Posters: used the signage files and printed on 11×17 poster paper

Town Ballot Flyer: We offered this visual reminder (Yes to Opt Out) on voting day; it was helpful for voters to look at, but many didn’t need one in hand. Important point to remember is that any voting materials carried into the voting booth by a voter must be carried out.

The Facebook Page: Initially, our approach was more stealth and controlled, trying to mobilize our dedicated voters (routine voters identified from town records) while not riling our opponents. Postcards and emails were our prime means of communication. Once we saw the right type of interest, and with only four days before the election, we decided to use Facebook to spread the message further. We still chose to pass the message through acquaintances, rather than a general broadcast. A group member developed the page and brought a large group of her followers. The facebook flyer was the original posting, followed by periodic postings of new research or vote education material. It served as an excellent two-way communication tool.


Example Emails

Below is an example of an EMAIL; the EMAIL corresponded to the POSTCARD mailings.
Emails were directed to our individual social circles.
Before sending, emails were tested to be sure they were mobile-phone friendly.
Messaging and word placement could be tricky.

Can You Tell the Difference?

Neither Can Your Child!

Dear Westborough Voter:

Did you know…The Town of Westborough is NOW required by law to host commercial marijuana businesses – unless we
VOTE YES to keep them out?

Think of it…Retail pot shops with attractive, toxic, high-potency THC candies, drinks and food available for accidental ingestion by our children.

This is Westborough’s ONLY CHANCE to keep out commercial marijuana businesses from operating and expanding in our town.

VOTE YES – Keep Out Commercial Marijuana – or They Are HERE to Stay and Grow!

VOTE YES to remove the State mandate requiring the Town of Westborough to host marijuana farms, product mfg., marketing and retail pot shops.

VOTE YES to preserve local control of our business landscape in Westborough. There is no upper limit to the number of businesses.

VOTE YES to honor Westborough’s vote against commercialized pot in Nov. ‘16.

VOTE YES to learn from Colorado’s experience and reduce risks of addiction, suicides, drugged-driving, overdoses and accidental, underage ingestion of toxic, high-potency pot edibles in the form of candies, foods & beverages.

VOTE YES to send a clear message that Westborough remains a #1 Family-Friendly Town. (Family Circle, 2013.)

Please Vote at Both Town Election and Town Meeting
We encourage you to vote at both:
Town Election on March 7th and
Town Meeting on March 18th
Voting takes place at Westborough High School.

Learn More: A Live Presentation – COMMERCIALIZING POT: The Big Tobacco of the 21st Century
March 1st 7:00-8:30pm
Town Library Meeting Room

Email: for questions and information.

Share: Share this email and resources widely with family, friends and social media contacts!

Thank You for Keeping Westborough Safe, Strong and Healthy!

Another example of an EMAIL. Here we incorporated the ballot language, which we thought was key. We were asking the voters to come out to vote on two separate occasions and the ballot question was counter intuitive. It was a lot of information to digest.

Dear Westborough Voters:

Thanks to all who came to our Commercialization of Marijuana Info Session and heard the insights of State Representative Hannah Kane; Stephanie Hubbard, former Colorado resident; Jody Hensley, community advocate; and commentary from health care professionals and policy advocates on the new Massachusetts Marijuana Law and its effects on the citizens of Westborough.
Attendees were shocked to learn the predatory tactics of this “addiction-for-profit” industry and the real risks to our community.

Thanks to Westborough TV, the Info Session video is here to view and share widely:

Many of you asked how to help. Here are suggestions and resources attached:
2. Help Hold Signs at the Town Election- Tuesday, March 7th. Sign-Up: (insert SignUp Genius link here)
3. Share Westborough TV Videos:
Commercialization of Marijuana:
Interview with Police Chief Gordon:
4. Share Facts. New flyers, Q&A and Ballot Question preview:

Shall the Town prohibit the operation of all types of marijuana establishments, as defined in [G.L…], including marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, product manufacturers, retailers, or any other type of licensed marijuana related marijuana businesses within the Town of Westborough. Yes _X__ No ______

5. Spread the Word… See Sample FB Post for your social media friends
6. Questions?
Remember to Vote at Both Town Election and Town Meeting:
DATES: Tuesday, March 7th 8am – 8pm – Town Election
Saturday, March 18th – 1 pm – Town Meeting
We Encourage You to Vote on BOTH days
PLACE: Westborough High School

Thank you for your interest and support… and mostly, for your YES vote on March 7th and March 18th!
And thank you for doing all you can do to keep Westborough safe, strong and healthy!

p.s. Can you help pass out flyers? Please reply if you can help us!
p.s.s. If at any time you wish to “opt out” of these emails, I am happy to accommodate! Thank you so very much!