Malden City Council seeks to pause cannabis retail licensing

City Councilor Craig Spadafora, an alcohol retailer is not a fan of cannabis retail?

“I want them to live in Malden, I want them to eat in Malden and I want them to drink in Malden.” City Councilor Craig Spadafora, 10/10/19, Malden City Council debate.

This week the Malden City Council passed a non-binding Resolve, “that the city of Malden cannabis license commission pause on soliciting additional applications for retail marijuana licenses so that the city can solicit voter feedback at the next municipal election on limits on the number of establishments allowed in the city” by a vote of 6-5.

State law passed after a 2016 legalization initiative requires cities or towns that voted a majority in support of the ballot question to license a set number of cannabis licenses. In the city of Malden, it would mean five or more adult use cannabis applicants being licensed. The city is only legally able to ban, to opt out of cannabis licensing by passing a new ballot initiative.

Currently, Malden has selected two adult use applicants to proceed with licensing. 

The sponsor of the Resolve, City Councilor Craig Spadafora doubted voters that elected him, “A lot of voters didn’t realize there was a number, they didn’t, whether you want to call them uneducated voters that’s fine, they didn't understand there was a number tied to the number of alcohol licenses determined by the state by population.”

City Councilor Amanda Linehan noted why she was against the Resolve and seemed to take issue with Spadafora on voter intent, “I voted in favor of cannabis as a resident when it was on the ballot and sincerely believe it sets a bad precedent to assume that voters didn’t understand how that ratio would be set or what it was that they were voting on.”

Linehan also directly addressed those who would be harmed by more delays, “I dont think it’s fair to those that are midway through the process right now to take this step.”

Spadafora seems intent in pushing for a ballot initiative that would allow voters to limit the number of retail cannabis licenses. Which is interesting considering he appears to retail liquor at his family’s Malden restaurant business.

A 2017 study “Helping Settle the Marijuana and Alcohol Debate: Evidence from Scanner Data” showed a sizable decrease in liquor sales following cannabis legalization with alcohol sales down by as much as 16.2 percent.

Spadafora ran on a platform of transparency but offered no response when I reached out via email to address the conflict of interest and hypocrisy of stalling cannabis retail while he appears to retail a far more harmful product. 

A call to Spadafora’s listed phone number on the Malden City Council shows it has been disconnected.

Finding that a Craig Spadafora had a publicly listed email on the restaurant’s website, I decided to pose as a potential customer looking to book a big bash to see if he would retail liquor to me. 

He responded quickly to that email offering, “a beverage setup fee of $100.00 to have a cash bar available (applied for alcohol or soda sales).”

Getting back on official city business, not that important, selling a cash bar, City Councilor Spadafora will get right back to you. 

At the hearing thirteen Malden citizens offered spoken and written testimony against the Resolve. No Malden citizens spoke in support of Spadafora’s Resolve. 

Speaking at the hearing, Jenelle DeVits, a member of the Malden Cannabis Licensing Enforcement Commission (CLEC), “Let’s be clear, the resolution before you tonight is asking the CLEC to violate our city ordinance and to shut down our process down all together, because this body or the anti-marijuana residents failed to organize appropriately over the last three plus years to put a question on the ballot, regarding restrictions on the number of licenses as required by state law. If there was really such a concern and motivation to elicit feedback from our residents why did the city council or these concerned residents fail to put the question before the largest turnout of Malden voters on this year’s Presidential ballot or even last year’s mayoral ballot, I hope you all take a pause and ask why now, three years later there is a push to wait for an off year election when we all know turnout will be much lower and not representative of the voters citywide. If the city council wants to properly change our ordinance there is a legal process to do that, which does not involve a non binding resolution directing the CLEC to violate the city’s current ordinance.”

Kimberly Gillette, another Malden resident with oral testimony, “This resolve would at best support the closure of our process or at worst protect a monopoly for the only two businesses that made it through the first phase of applications.”

DeVits concluded, “Trying to direct the CLEC to violate the current ordinance is not appropriate and only raises questions of whether pausing at this junction will be a violation of state law, such a pause may be argued by some to be a de facto ban on additional licenses or may be seens as limiting the number of licenses below five which we know can only be approved by a majority of Malden residents through a ballot question while residents had a full three years to get this question on the ballot, that has not happened.”

Warren Lynch, a cannabis applicant in the city is hopeful despite the results of the vote, “I spoke with two City Councilors who voted yes on the Resolve, and they both said that they do not agree that cannabis licenses should be delayed a full 12 months, and only voted yes on what they viewed as the main point of the non-binding Resolve, which is that the cannabis licensing process in Malden could use some clarification in a few places."

DeVits also isn’t giving up, "I plan to urge the CLEC to keep moving forward with a monthly rolling basis application process per our current City ordinance that remains unchanged, even in light of the split vote on the non-binding resolution."

Photo by Burst from Pexels

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