Local Pot Shop Siting Requires Checks and Balances [OPINION]
The ability of a single individual to issue a letter of non-opposition for a marijuana dispensary is an invitation for corruption. Just ask the folks in Fall River.
Anyone looking to apply to the state for permission to establish a marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts is required to obtain a letter of non-opposition from at least one local official. The rules vary by community. In Fall River, for example, the mayor has the sole issuing authority. The same is true in New Bedford.
Other municipalities such as Attleboro require the city council to sign off on the letter of non-opposition, while most towns require a vote of the board of selectmen.
In the case of Fall River, federal authorities claim that Mayor Jasiel Correia misused his authority as sole issuer to bribe folks who were interested in applying for permission to establish pot shops in that city. In other words, he is alleged to have sold the letters. While there is no reason to believe the process has been abused in New Bedford, the very idea of a single individual being given that kind of power without checks and balances is concerning.
In light of what is alleged to have happened in Fall River, the city's legislative delegation has asked that the entire process there be paused and investigated to gain a full understanding of the extent of what may be a very serious problem. How many potential developers were issued letters of non-opposition by Correia and at what cost? One might think that an investor who pays a bribe to a local official is prosecutable as well and perhaps barred from participating in the process altogether.
The New Bedford City Council should have a greater role in determining who gets letters of non-opposition. As in Attleboro, the council should be required to vote up or down on the issuance of such letters.
I would hope that the state uses the Fall River debacle to take a closer look at just how marijuana dispensaries are sited and that standardize state-wide rules can be established to prevent another episode such as what we experienced in Fall River from happening.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.