FOXBORO — Sounding off on a broad docket of contentious issues ranging from marijuana to highway billboards, voters at Monday’s annual town meeting emphatically rejected calls to play follow the leader with nearby towns.
While content to approve with little or no discussion a broad docket of financial business including an $89 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, those in attendance refused appeals to set up shop with the marijuana and billboard industries.
Scheduled for action at the tail end of a 22-article warrant, separate articles to establish a zoning and regulatory framework to allow recreational marijuana sales, as well as permitting billboards in selected areas along Interstate 95, were both overwhelmingly defeated by 2-1 ratios.
Selectmen Chairwoman Leah Gibson, who in recent months had consistently championed the initiative as a revenue driver for the town, suggested that attitudes have changed since 2017 when local voters decisively approved a non-binding ballot referendum to ban retail recreational marijuana shops, growers and processors.
“At that point in time it was new — it was scary,” Gibson said. “But a lot has changed since then. It is around us and we’ve seen minimal community impact.”
Under the proposal rejected Monday night, marijuana businesses would have been permitted along the Route 1 corridor and in a commercial/industrial area stretching from East Belcher Road to the Forbes Crossing plaza.
Initially, the town would have been limited to two retail marijuana outlets, based on a flexible ceiling established by the state which could rise in the future based upon the number of liquor licenses available in town.
Opponents of the measure, including Stephen Udden, predicted that allowing local retail shops would greatly increase the likelihood of underage users obtaining the drug.
“I’m begging you to vote this article to death,” Udden said.
Others, such as Mary Lou Pike, suggested the anticipated revenue windfall would not be worth the risks associated with marijuana commerce.
“I say the ends don’t always justify the means,” Pike observed.
Speaking in favor of the measure, Benjamin Silver argued that establishing a local regulatory framework would increase safeguards and reduce illicit activity rather that creating demand where it currently does not exist.
“I hear echoes of the rather ineffective anti-drug campaigns in school when I grew up,” Silver said.
Dianne Weinfeld, a cancer patient, said medical marijuana has been helpful in managing symptoms during her illness.
“Marijuana has been very valuable to me,” she said. “I’m just very grateful I live in Massachusetts.”
Ultimately, the marijuana article, which required a two-thirds majority vote for passage, mustered just 53 votes, with 83 opposed.
Most of those who opposed the billboard article claimed that it would despoil Foxboro’s scenic beauty, even though town officials said that no more than three installations — one on town-owned land behind the Elm Street highway garage — could be sited on the I-95 corridor.
Town Manager William Keegan said lease revenue from the town-owned location, which already has been earmarked to help fund a renovation and expansion of the public works facility, could potentially generate “millions of dollars.”
Voters were unmoved, however, and most agreed with Mark Powers who described existing electronic billboards in Sharon as an eyesore that could be seen for extended distances.