Haverhill Councilors Drop Idea to Ask Residents to Vote Again on Marijuana

Haverhill City Councilors in session at the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. City Council Chambers. (WHAV News file photograph.)

City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, second from right, decided against supporting another vote on legalization of recreational marijuana. Most of her colleagues agreed. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill residents won’t be asked again after all whether they support recreational marijuana.

Although Mayor James J. Fiorentini was the only person to speak out against the idea of a special election, it was an avalanche of resident emails and texts that sunk the idea floated by City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien. In the end, even O’Brien didn’t support the idea.

“But, it has become clear to me, that people of Haverhill agree with the way the vote went and that they’re probably really not interested in us spending money on a ballot,” she said.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini argued voters have consistently supported marijuana legalization. (WHAV News photograph.)

Fiorentini told councilors Haverhill residents have already voted three times in favor of legalizing marijuana—in 2008, to decriminalize it; in 2012, to support medical marijuana; and, in 2016, to allow recreational use of marijuana. The first two votes brought support from more than 60 percent of the those voting, and the 2016 measure was approved by 54 percent. The mayor noted more people supported pot legalization than either of the two presidential candidates on the ballot. “Now, Hillary Clinton carried Haverhill, but more people voted to legalize recreational marijuana than voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump here in the City of Haverhill,” the mayor said.

Recognizing the lack of support, Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua and Tim Jordan said they still believe residents should have had a chance to reconsider their positions. Bevilacqua said there was confusion in 2016.

“I’m not sure the ballot question that was on the state agenda was really clear to a  lot of people—and that includes me. I’m not saying no one knew what they were voting,” he said.

Jordan said he based his opposition on concerns raised by Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro and school pediatrician John F. Maddox.

Councilor William J. Macek said he did “entertain” the idea of putting the issue back before the voters because the legislature greatly changed what residents supported. “The state, I believe, almost created two classes of communities based on that vote, and there was never any intention in the original ballot question—number 4—that that would be the case.”

Besides voters’ support, Councilor Melinda E. Barrett said there will be controls on the marijuana industry. “I think it’s fairly clear that the voters of Haverhill want to go forward with this. It’s going to be a heavily regulated industry. We, as well as the state, will reap some tax benefits from. The establishments will be safe, secure, discreet.”

Councilor Colin F. LePage pointed out there still won’t be pot stores opening any time soon. The city’s moratorium on licensing establishments remains in effect until Dec. 1.