McCarthy: Marijuana and the Special Election in New Bedford
The site of the first medical marijuana dispensary in New Bedford will likely be on Hathaway Rd. in Ward 3. The special election underway in that ward of the city will elevate the discussion of the marijuana economy to center stage.
The citizens of New Bedford voted to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2016 on the same ballot as the presidential election. Over 58% of the registered voters came out to vote and 57% of them voted to change state law in favor of marijuana. The voters of Ward 3 mirrored the city wide electorate on the issue of marijuana.
We will be discussing this tomorrow on 1420 WBSM during "Sunday Brunch" my current affairs radio program that airs every Sunday from 10am to 1pm.
These clear results in the city and Ward 3 could act as a road map to a political candidate. Mayor Jon Mitchell has cited the vote as an explanation for his adjusted position on allowing a medical pot dispensary within the city limits. City Council President Joseph Lopes as created a special committee to deal with the zoning and licensing of marijuana chaired by Councillor Ian Abreu.
For the candidates running in the special election for the vacant Ward 3 seat, life isn't so simple. Today it is the only ward facing the very real prospect of having a marijuana dispensary located there. It is the home of two of the three city precincts that voted against legalizing marijuana. It is also the home of three precincts that voted for legalization of pot by more than 60%. The dispensary on Hathaway Rd. will be in precinct 3F which voted against marijuana by one vote. The dispensary location is in a business district, however the vote rich neighborhoods off of Hathaway Rd. may now feel this pot business is too close for comfort.
The dispensary promises many positives like jobs, tax revenue and relief for thousands of people who have medical reasons to consume cannabis.
There is also the issue of a current lack of representation for Ward 3. Henry Bousquet is gone from the table. The city of New Bedford's government was designed to give each ward a distinct voice in city hall and today that voice is silent. Should the city be moving ahead with a revolutionary change like a marijuana dispensary in the only portion of the city currently without a ward councillor?
For the men and women seeking election today in Ward 3, the marijuana issue will be a challenge. The voters showing up for the special election may not share the liberal views of the majority in the city. They may have reconsidered their position now that the city is looking to place a medical marijuana store on the road they drive everyday. What will their life be like once they are sharing Hathaway Rd. with the customers coming and going from the dispensary and what has the city done to prepare for that day?
In 2016, there were 4748 votes cast in Ward 3 on the question of legalizing marijuana. In 2015, only 555 voters from Ward 3 voted in the city's preliminary municipal election. Using history as a guide, the voter participation for the special elections of 2017 will look more like 2015 than the Presidential election turnout of 2016. The question on the minds of all the candidates is who will turn out and how will they feel on that day about marijuana in the Whaling City.
Chris McCarthy is the host of Sunday Brunch on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard most Sundays from 10am-1pm (depending on Red Sox/Patriots schedules). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.