As the state rolls out recreational marijuana shops, the issue will heat up. The 2019 local elections will shape the future of this industry.

The cities and towns of SouthCoast are just beginning to experience the results of the 2016 ballot question that legalized the use and sale of recreational marijuana. The sale of recreational marijuana to adults 21 years of age and older is now a reality in Wareham. There will soon be a similar operation up and running in Fall River.

But the issue isn't settled yet. There are honest disagreements about the matter. There are some people who think their local officials are wrong about the details of selling recreational marijuana in their specific community. Some people believe it shouldn't be allowed, and some people believe their elected leaders are wrong to restrict the sale of the now-legal product.

In Fairhaven, a group of citizens has been trying to stop the sale of pot. The town has been host to a medical marijuana dispensary for years and there have been no problems with the establishment. Town meeting members recently voted to approve a zoning change that will potentially allow for recreational sales at that location in the future. Lakeville has seen similar moves by activists to derail marijuana in the town. It is important to note that both towns saw their town meetings reject the call to restrict marijuana sales. However, the issue has the potential to surface during the spring campaign for selectman.

I believe both Fairhaven and Lakeville have been well served by those the citizens have elected to serve as selectmen, and by the professionals and the other elected and appointed officials in those communities.

In New Bedford, the situation is becoming volatile. The City has passed a zoning package to deal with the locations available for the sale of marijuana. During a recent City Council committee meeting on the matter, three separate businesses explained that they have found it impossible to find a location that would allow them to sell legal marijuana to the public. They all pointed to the zoning bylaws as the reason for their failure.

The mayor and the City Council are responsible for the zoning in New Bedford. The City of New Bedford voted in 2016 to legalize marijuana. However, that isn't the same group of voters who command a majority in city elections. The close quarters in cities is also a world away from life in the suburbs and the rural towns of SouthCoast.

The ballot initiative of 2016 was a philosophical decision. The zoning decisions, municipal elections, and the direct local consequences are real life.

Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

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