Two recent unanimous decisions from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court confirm the supremacy of the state’s marijuana laws over local zoning restrictions. The decisions also indicate a tendency of the Supreme Judicial Court to look to the state policy of legalizing the sale of marijuana when faced with restrictive local ordinances.
Both cases involve the same entity, CommCan, Inc., which is attempting to open a retail marijuana operation in Mansfield, Massachusetts, in face of opposition from neighbors and the town. The first case resulted from a change in the Massachusetts state law. When Massachusetts initially legalized marijuana for medical use in 2012, medical marijuana dispensaries were required to be nonprofit entities. In 2017, the state law changed to permit existing dispensaries and applicants to convert to nonprofit corporations. However, the Mansfield zoning ordinance did not change with the state law and continued to purport to restrict marijuana dispensaries in the town to only those operated by nonprofit corporations.
Upon review, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the Mansfield Zoning Board’s decision to issue a special permit to CommCan, reasoning that the change in state law preempted the zoning bylaw. The Court found that by retaining the requirement that medical marijuana dispensaries