ADAMS — With medical marijuana now a reality in the state, local officials are taking steps to ensure the town has appropriate regulations in place just in case company tries to open a dispensary in the community.
"There's nobody knocking on our door right now trying to bring in a medical marijuana dispensary," said Board Chairman Jeffrey Snoonian.
But if there is no bylaw on the books, officials said, the town would have no control over where such a facility would be allowed if a proposal should surface.
After a spirited 40 minute discussion, the Select Board on Wednesday voted unanimously to direct the Planning Board to draft a bylaw as a pre-emptive measure.
State voters approved allowing the use of medically prescribed marijuana in 2012. So far, there are no dispensaries located in the Berkshires, though there are proposals pending for sites in Pittsfield and Lee.
Selectman Joseph Nowak, who spoke in support of dispensaries, noted that the closest dispensary to the town is in Northampton and people with legal marijuana prescriptions must make the lengthy trip, sometimes in poor driving conditions.
"If we can do anything to help people who need any type of relief (we should)," he said.
"It's not a cure-all but marijuana helps people with multiple sclerosis, it's shown to help people with cancer, and chronic pain," Nowak said. "(The dispensaries) are very regulated."
Selectmen Richard Blanchard said he is opposed to allowing a dispensary to open in the community.
"My concern is we are marketing Adams as the outdoor place to be, and with the J.K. Rowling thing, I am sure it's right," he said, referring to the author's recent revelation of a fictional wizardry school atop Mount Greylock in a book set during the 1600s. The announcement has drawn worldwide publicity to the community.
Selectmen John Duval and Arthur "Skip" Harrington also expressed concerns about such a facility but it was police Chief Richard Tarsa Jr. who delivered a forceful speech underscoring possible consequences.
"There is a lot of research that marijuana is a gateway drug," he said. "Marijuana is an addictive drug."
Nowak cited studies claiming marijuana was not addictive and alleged that heroin was a bigger problem as it is much cheaper to purchase than marijuana. Tarsa said that he attended a Berkshire Community College seminar with expert presentations demonstrating the exact opposite and also showed evidence that marijuana destroys brain cells.
Snoonian repeatedly noted that the discussion was about whether to ask the Planning Board members to craft a bylaw — not to weigh in on the use of marijuana, medically or recreationally.
"Smoke weed, don't smoke weed; I could care less," he said.
Nowak drew a few chuckles from the audience when he admitted to past marijuana use.
"I did inhale," he said. "I went to the original Woodstock."
Tarsa noted there is a state requirement that dispensaries must be located 500 feet from schools, parks and child care centers.
"You have parks in this town from one end to another," he said, taking selectmen on a verbal tour of sites around the community. "You are going to be very hard-pressed to find a space for this."
Tarsa said he was keeping an open mind, but remained wary of allowing such a facility into the community.
"I encourage debate, I really do," he said, "but I wouldn't be doing my job as police chief of Adams if I didn't say it was a bad idea."
Town counsel Edward St. John III noted that the town could not simply prohibit marijuana dispensaries.
Blanchard and Harrington concurred with Tarsa on most points and both expressed concerns that if state voters approve recreational use of marijuana during the November election, medical dispensaries may become "weed shops."
Snoonian said that medical marijuana businesses are very strictly regulated.
"If you're a kid you can't go in and buy five joints," he said. "That's not how it works."
Any entity wishing to open a registered marijuana dispensary must first submit an application of intent to state authorities, according to information provided by the state Department of Public Health. A background check of the proposed vendors is conducted and the application must contain a detailed report about how the facility will be managed.
The revenue structure must be fully disclosed as well. The application also must include proof that there is community support for the venture, according to the information.
Planning Board Chairwoman Barbara Ziemba, attended the meeting and said enacting no bylaw would mean "someone could come in here and do what they want."
Tarsa is more than welcome to offer his opinions to the Planning Board members, she said.
"We can invite the chief to come for a little workshop meeting," she said.
Tarsa said he would be happy to attend.