NEW BEDFORD - The City Council's Special Committee on Licensing & Zoning for Cannabis met for the first time Monday evening at City Hall to hear comments and concerns from both sides of the legalization legislation. 

Many communities are beginning to look at potential impacts legalization could have and are attempting to get ahead of the game before state lawmakers finalized legislation by July 2018.

Jim Borghesani, communications director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, spoke on behalf of what the passage of last year's ballot question means for municipalities across the Commonwealth.

The initiative to tax and regulate marijuana will establish the Cannabis Control Commission and treat marijuana much like alcohol is currently controlled. Sales will be subject to excise, sales and local taxes, resulting in as much as 12-percent.

Due to the profits to be made both privately and through taxes, Borghesani told the committee industry leaders have few concerns over the Trump Administration cracking down on federal enforcement.

"There's still hope that Donald Trump, as a businessman president, will not want to interfere with legal businesses that have been operating at this point for years in other states, have created thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in new state revenue," Borghesani said.

President Barack Obama previously filed a memo easing federal law enforcement over sales and possession in states that have legalized marijuana through a ballot measure.

Borghesani also told the committee that studies have shown there likely won't be a large number of people beginning to smoke marijuana once it is readily available, and that the products entering the market will be much more safe and transparent.

"For the most part, the same people that were using it before, percentage-wise, are using it now," said Borghesani. "The difference is they're getting tested product, that's grown in the States, that's tracked seed to sale by software, you know who grew it, you know what's in it."

Speaking on behalf of public safety, New Bedford Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro said there are still too many variables to account for and more time is needed to implement this legislation properly.

"It's going to happen, but let's do it right in New Bedford," Cordeiro said. "Let's take our time. From the police department's perspective we have enough challenges and we see this as a major challenge."

One of the biggest problems face by law enforcement in the city and across the nation is the lack of an adequate field sobriety test for potentially impaired operators.

"Nothing that I know of as of yet, in terms of technology, has caught up with how we're going to be able to measure and calibrate and make that link from diminished capacity to the marijuana levels in their system," said Cordeiro.

The committee will continue to meet each month for updates and to address any issues or concerns moving forward.

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