Marijuana and the Power of NIMBYs

Want to keep pot shops out of your neighborhood, or turn your town into the Napa Valley of weed? Here are tools communities have to limit or nurture marijuana businesses.

Local Elections

The new legalization law says cities and towns can’t limit the number of marijuana businesses to fewer than 20 percent of local liquor licenses (our eight dry municipalities are off the hook). If communities want to reduce that number or ban operations altogether, residents have to vote for it.

Letters of Support

The state’s medical marijuana law requires dispensaries to obtain “letters of support or non-opposition” from communities in which they plan to operate, giving residents significant control. It’s unknown yet whether local consent letters will be required for stores selling recreational weed, but the requirement is already affecting the industry’s future: Local medical marijuana companies are keeping mum on plans to expand into the adult-use market, in large part because they fear doing so might keep municipalities from issuing the support letters they need for their medical operations.


Many communities have passed zoning rules that specify where medical dispensaries can be located—not within a certain distance of schools, for instance—and are pondering similar rules for recreational marijuana. While the courts have said local governments can’t zone marijuana businesses out of existence, they can develop requirements so onerous that no one would want to navigate them. Even if a community doesn’t pass marijuana-specific zoning laws, operations might still have to apply for a special-use permit requiring them to notify neighbors of their plans and have their application considered at a public hearing—the sort of process in which citizens can exert their influence.