ANDOVER — Residents voted to ban recreational marijuana establishments at Tuesday's Annual Town Meeting, but not without lengthy debate.
The ban, which was actually rejected at the Jan. 29 Special Town Meeting, was approved this time around on a 527 to 231 vote.
"Is this 2018 or 1919?" asked Gregory Trerotola of 6 Rogers Brook East. "Compared to other drugs, marijuana is safer by far. Andover's Jan. 29 vote is on the right side of history, but it's back. There's a lot of misinformation, scare tactics and fear mongering going on folks."
Bob Willard of Tewksbury Street agreed.
"This trio of articles are a prohibition disguised as protective zoning," he said. "I am opposed. We do want some zoning protections so we don't end up with a pot shop in the parking lot of South Church."
He added that it's easy to get marijuana in Andover.
"If you think it is hard to find it, there have been rumors it has been found in this school," Willard said, referring to Andover High School. The town meeting was held in the Collins Center, which is attached to the high school. "There is at least one website available that will deliver marijuana to your Andover doorstep. These articles will not prohibit pot, they will only prevent Andover from getting their share of jobs and revenue that allowing marijuana businesses could produce."
But many other residents were concerned that allowing recreational establishments in town could have a negative impact on children.
"If we do not ban these, I maintain we are indirectly condoning its use, thus making it more difficult for every parent and grandparent to raise their children," said John Desmond of 129 Andover St. "How do we explain such businesses to our kids as we try to steer them away from drugs? If there is one thing we do not need in our society is yet anther legalized substance that increases the likelihood of emphysema, heart disease and makes our highways even more dangerous."
At the start of debate on the subject Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia explained why, if the ban was defeated at the Jan. 29 Special Town Meeting, it was brought back for the Annual Town Meeting.
He said that after the Jan. 29 vote, numerous residents approached him and others on the board, claiming they were unsure what they had voted on at that meeting. Salafia told residents Tuesday this was the reason why three articles pertaining to the prohibition of recreational marijuana establishments were brought back to be voted on for a second time.
“There has been much discussion about why the Board of Selectmen brought back these articles for reconsideration,” Salafia said. "It became apparent the Board of Selectmen failed to give a clear explanation of the possible implication of these articles. People did not know what they were voting for. Whether you vote yes or you vote no, certainly the vote is yours. It is our intent to give useful information that will be helpful to you in deciding which way to vote."
Police Chief Patrick Keefe informed residents that if the ban were not put in place, Andover would be the only town in the northern Merrimack Valley open to recreational marijuana establishments. The commercial operations could have included a variety of marijuana-related businesses, such as cultivators, marijuana product manufacturers, retailers, social consumption establishments, research facilities, independent testing facilities, marijuana transporters and marijuana micro-businesses.
Keefe also warned that since marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the state has seen an increase of drivers driving under the influence of marijuana, an increase of the black market circulation of marijuana, and an increase in the use of marijuana by people under the age of 21.
Ron Hill of 15 Abbott St. said that was his concern.
"The fact is folks that there is no road test at all for excess marijuana use," he said. "Police officers have to make that judgment."
One resident shared his struggles with tobacco addiction with the crowd, and said that he didn't want his children to experience anything even remotely similar.
"I used tobacco when I was young, when I was back in China," said Tao Tu of 20 Keystone Way. "It was very accessible to me and affordable to me. I did not know how hard it is to quit. I don't want the same thing to happen to my kids. I want them to stay away from marijuana no matter how many people say it is not bad because I know it is bad."
Follow Kelsey Bode on Twitter @Kelsey_Bode.