Selling your town to the marijuana industry

I vowed to quit with marijuana, but I just can’t.  It’s addictive.

We can go back to 2016, when voters were hit with legalese that can only be described as a trap.  Basically, under the mask of legalizing the consumption of marijuana, the ballot question was really about opening recreational pot shops around the corner.  No doubt many, many people voted for legalization without knowledge of this and with no desire to have pot shops in their town.  What exultation must have come from the lawyers working for the industry, when their masterstroke made it to the fine print:

A town voting to legalize marijuana may MUST open pot shops.

At the same time, the administration of Newton changed.  Councilors who liked the place the way it is and wanted to protect it lost to others who wanted it more vibrant.  The new councilors and the new mayor sided with the marijuana industry.

The way in which they eventually won is sinister.  The context was that everybody in Newton wants at least some restriction on the number of marijuana stores.  But don’t take my word for this claim: even the pro-pot councilors believe so, and in fact almost unanimously they put a question on the ballot about restricting the number of stores.  At the same time, many people in Newton wanted zero stores.  In another masterstroke of the saga, the councilors were able to put one group against the other.  They added another question about having zero stores, following a massive, grassroots petition which however should have put the question at a different time. Then they forced the people who wanted zero stores to vote against restricting the number of stores. This is genius.  Also, if it isn’t illegal I believe it should be.  And in perfect coup style, media outlets censored several pieces explaining the situation to the voters. The end result was what the administration had always wanted: no restriction on the number of stores. Ignore the alarms of the doctors, the police officers, and the people.  What do they know about what’s best for Newton? The bottom line is that the revenue will do good things for the city! Oh yes, the revenue.  Newton has 1 billion dollars in deficit.  You read well, 1 billion.  For decades we will have a fraction of the city budget wiped out to repay that. I guess they can say we are so desperately in debt that we should rake in every penny we can zone in town.  But I think a more accurate perspective is that even in their wildest dreams, cannabis sales won’t make a dent in that.  And maybe they should spend a couple of minutes thinking about the dozens of other ways we can bring money to the city without bringing the drugs.

Executing their sophisticated plan cost in the neighborhood of $100k, mostly spent on a political strategy group which helped win the election.  To add insult to injury, key members of this marijuana combine, including the political strategists and those who funded them, don’t live in Newton but in towns where recreational pot stores are banned.  The marijuana combine is effectively carving out suburban Boston in areas where it’s good to live and areas where it’s good to sell pot.

As is well known, nobody has any problem with legalizing marijuana consumption.  Moreover, there is absolutely no problem with buying this stuff over the internet, or stocking up at out-of-the-way stores.  Well, absolutely no problem except one.  The money wouldn’t go into the pockets of X, Y, and Z.

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shoving marijuana down the throats of Newton’s residents

Congratulations to the marijuana industry and the Newton MA administration for rigging the elections and pouring > $70K into a campaign strategist who lives in a neighboring city where recreational pot shops are banned, thereby snatching a narrow victory and shoving marijuana down the throats of Newton’s residents. When the pot shops open, owned by people who live in the same neighboring city which does not have them, I’ll have a toast to you with a marijuana drink.

Well, I think I am taking a break from politics, at least until I have a stronger financial backing. I have a bigger impact on society with my research.

How to rig an election

After the historic signature collection there was a pitched battle to decide which questions to put on the ballot.  Alas, the battle resulted in somewhat of a defeat for the residents of Newton.  The councilors of Newton saw it fit to put two conflicting questions on the ballot, and to resolve the conflict by stipulating that if both questions pass, the one with the highest number of yes votes will prevail. As explained below, this forces residents to strategize, take a risk, and in a way answer questions against their true preference — a well-known, and bad, situation in election theory.

The two questions are:

  • Question 1:  Shall the City adopt the following general ordinance?
    All recreational marijuana retail establishments shall be prohibited from operating in the City of NewtonCouncilors unanimously approved the inclusion of this question on the ballot.
  • Question 2:  Shall the City adopt the following zoning ordinance?
    The number of recreational marijuana retail establishments shall be not fewer than two (2) nor more than four (4). Councilors approved the inclusion of this question on the ballot by a vote of 11 to 10.

Yes, the motion to put Question 2 on the ballot passed by 1 vote. Each of those 11 councilors can go home feeling satisfied that they bear full responsibility for ignoring the clear preference of their constituents.  It doesn’t matter what the chief of the Newton police says, or what the former head of the Newton-Wellsely hospital says, or what any of the other dozens of high-profile people say, or that you collected thousands of signatures.  Those 11 councilors know what’s best for Newton. (Oh, and by the way, the upper bound is meaningless and can be easily increased. )

Before they convened to deliberate I sent them this message:

  • If you want to put another question on the ballot besides a simple YES/NO question, then you should first collect 7,000 signatures.

I doubt they could have even collected 70 for Question 2.

But the real problem is the rule I mentioned before, that if both questions have a majority of yes votes, the one with the highest number of yes votes will prevail.  To illustrate, consider the following realistic scenario.  Suppose that a resident of Newton loathes recreational marijuana establishments.  When they go to the ballot, they obviously vote yes on Question 1.  What should they do about Question 2?  If Question 1 loses, they are better off if Question 2 wins.  Suppose they also vote yes on 2, and that 99% of Newton residents behaves this way. Then it’s enough that a merry 1% band of business(wo)men vote no on Question 1 and yes on Question 2, and they harness all the votes that people cast to their own advantage.

There do exist fair ways of having both questions on the ballot, but this isn’t one. The current setup forces people who really want to ban recreational marijuana to strategize by voting no on question 2, and risk that if Question 1 loses, they end up with unlimited recreational stores.

Maybe it’s a little hard to understand this in terms of marijuana.  Consider the following scenario:

  1. Question 1: Do you want to ban torture?
  2. Question 2: Do you want to limit the amount of torture that can be inflicted upon you?
  3. Default: Unlimited torture can be inflicted upon you.
  4. If both Questions 1 and 2 have majority Yes, the one with the highest number of yes prevails.

It is not going to be easy, but it seems that in the upcoming campaign we will have to convince people to answer ‘NO’ to question 2.

 

 

 

NEWTON MUST NOT BECOME THE HUB OF MARIJUANA

If you are a resident of Newton, MA, sign this petition.

In 2016 Massachusetts voters voted to legalize Marijuana. Except they didn’t know what they were voting for! In Colorado and Washington, the question of legalization and commercialization were completely separate. The marijuana industry apparently learned from that and rigged the Massachusetts ballot question so that a voter legalizing marijuana would also be mandating communities to open marijuana stores. For Newton, MA, this means at least 8 stores. When voters were recently polled, it became clear that the vast majority did not know that this was at stake, and that the majority of them in fact does not want to open marijuana stores in their communities. For example, when I voted I didn’t know that this was at stake. Read the official Massachusetts document to inform voters, see especially the summary on pages 12-13. There is no hint that a community would be mandated by state law to open marijuana stores unless it goes through an additional legislative crusade. Instead it says that communities can choose. I think I even read the summary back then.

Now to avoid opening stores in Newton, MA, we need a new ballot question. The City Council could have put this question on the ballot easily, but a few days ago decided that it won’t by a vote of 13 to 8. You can find the list of names of councilors and how they voted here.

Note that the council was not deciding whether or not to open stores, it was just deciding whether or not we should have a question about this on the ballot.

Instead now we are stuck doing things the hard way. To put this question on the ballot, we need to collect 6000 signatures, or 9000 if the city is completely uncooperative, a possibility which now unfortunately cannot be dismissed.

However we must do it, for the alternative is too awful. Most of the surrounding towns (Wellesley, Weston, Needham, Dedham, etc.) have already opted out. So if Newton opens stores, it basically becomes the hub for west suburban marijuana users, at least some of whom would drive under the influence of marijuana (conveniently undetectable). Proposed store locations include sites on the way to elementary schools, and there is an amusing proposal to open a marijuana store in a prime Newton Center Location, after Peet’s Coffee moves out (they lost the bid for renewal of the lease). The owners of the space admit that people have asked them for a small grocery store instead, but they think that a marijuana store would bring more traffic and business to Newton Center. I told them to open a gym instead. That too would bring traffic and business, but in addition it would have other benefits that cannabis does not have.