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Ruminations

I'm really looking forward to the October 30 Special Town Meeting, because anything can happen when it comes to Article 14 on the warrant.

That's the proposed Zoning By-law Amendment that – if enacted – would not allow any retail marijuana cultivation, testing facilities, product manufacturing and retail sales in town.

Just to review things: Last November, the town voted 6,930 to 6,424 to allow retail marijuana sales in Massachusetts. Last month, the town voted 3,027 to 2,351 to authorize Town Meeting to adopt a Zoning By-law Amendment that would not allow any retail marijuana cultivation, testing facilities, product manufacturing and retail sales in town. Later this month, Town Meeting Members will vote on whether to adopt a Zoning By-law amendment to do what the September ballot said.

Or, they can vote not to. Or, they can vote – within certain limitations – to change the wording before them.

I bet that you thought the issue was finally settled on September 19. And that Town Meeting Members have to approve the proposed zoning change. In fact, they do not have to approve it. And, in fact, they can change it.

All the September 19 vote did was to authorize the town to change the Zoning By-law, but did not require that change to be made, says Town Counsel Gerry Moody. And, any proposed amendments that fall within "the scope of the article" can be accepted, he adds.

What's "the scope of the article" mean? Very simply, this: A town meeting warrant is a legal notice letting people know what is going to be voted upon. The wording of each article in that warrant gives a scope of what is going to be discussed and voted upon.

So, for example, you can't have the warrant say you are going to vote to accept road "A" as a town street, but amend that to road "B" on the town meeting floor. That's because people weren't notified in advance about road "B." Similarly, you can't say you're going to ask for $1 million to buy something and then change it to $2 million. You can, however, say that you're going to ask for "a sum of money" to be transferred or to be raised and appropriated, and then specify the exact amount when the motion for the article is read aloud. It's all about what the warrant legally tells people in advance of the meeting.

You also can take away from what's in the warrant. So, if the warrant wording calls for not allowing any retail marijuana cultivation, testing facilities, product manufacturing and retail sales in town, an amendment can be proposed to delete the wording about cultivation and testing facilities.

Could that happen on October 30?

Let's see. There are normally about 170 Town Meeting Members who show up. If they vote the same 56 percent "yes" and 44 percent (no) ratio as in the September "reeferendum," that will not yield the two-thirds' majority vote needed to enact a zoning change.

However, Precincts 1 and 4 voted in September against the ballot question. If those precincts' Town Meeting Members who show up – and that could be roughly 39-40 people – all vote "no" the way their precincts went, and if the other precincts' Town Meeting Members vote and the At-Large members vote "yes," that means the zoning amendment could pass by a 77-23 percent margin. That's more than the two-thirds' majority needed.

Anything could happen. And, I bet Town Meeting members will be getting a lot of calls between now and October 30.




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