ASHFIELD >> When state Senate candidates met Thursday night in their first debate they differed on some key issues facing voters.
Republican Christine M. Canning and Democrat Adam G. Hinds took different views on ballot questions on whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana and lift the cap on charter schools, on state spending to support an aging population and on Attorney General Maura Healey's ruling on copycat assault weapons.
The candidates squared off in Ashfield Town Hall for an audience of about 40 people.
Canning, 47, is an educational consultant from Lanesborough, and Adam Hinds, 40, of Pittsfield, is executive director of Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams. They are vying for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, who is stepping in December after 10 years. Both have backgrounds working abroad, particularly in the Middle East.
Hinds said he opposes the marijuana measure — Question 4, citing concerns about impaired driving, edible products and the effect on developing brains.
Canning spoke in favor of legalization, in part as an economic development tool. She pointed to the benefit to agriculture if marijuana and hemp could be grown legally for the pharmaceutical cosmetic industry.
Hinds said he opposes ballot Question 2 because he feels it would hurt public schools in the largely rural district. Canning said she was "divided" on the question, in part because more charter schools are needed in Eastern Massachusetts where some public school systems are failing.
They differed also in emphasis over how to deal with an aging population in the district, a much-discussed topic in the Berkshires.
Hinds highlighted the need to ensure affordable housing, better transportation and helping lower prescription drug costs. Canning pointed to what she said is waste in the state budget, which could be redirected to providing for seniors.
They also differed on the copycat assault weapons ruling. Canning, a member of the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners Action League, accusing Healey of "overstepping her reach."
Hinds, who said he supports the public's right to have weapons, said, "It should be a deliberate conversation." However, he said he believes the attorney general should have "taken a more deliberate public process and worked with the Legislature. ... You can make sure she's working through the context in which cops are not shot in Massachusetts."
Asked how they would turn their personal passions into legislative priorities, Canning, who has been a whistleblower in the Pittsfield and Holyoke schools, said she would work on anti-discrimination, added domestic violence protection and a reform measure to hold teachers or school committee members responsible if they cover up wrongs that hurt a child's health or safety.
Hinds said he would favor educational reform and educational funding reform measures as well as fighting poverty through criminal justice reform and other measures.
Both candidates agreed on supporting the Fair Share Amendment, or "millionaire's tax," which encourages renewable energy development and opposes natural gas pipelines. They favored a $15 minimum wage as something to "work toward," and agreed on encouraging agriculture and the importance of getting broadband to towns in the district.
They agreed on a need to change the public school funding formula and to get full regional school transportation reimbursements.
And both said they were in support of a single-payer health care, would encourage communities to work together on regional solutions and favor taking steps to see that doctors and insurance companies help the state deal with the opioid crisis through more careful monitoring of prescriptions and reducing delays and shortened stays for treatment, respectively.
The 52-community district includes all of Berkshire County, and parts of Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties.
Canning, who is completing an educational policy doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, owns two educational consulting businesses — Boston Manhattan Group and New England Global Network — and has taught in the Pittsfield, Springfield and Holyoke public schools as well as in the United Arab Emirates.
Hinds, who grew up in Buckland and graduated from Mohawk Trail Regional High School as well as from Wesleyan University and Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has worked for the United Nations as a negotiator in the Mideast. He has also administered a Pittsfield gang-prevention program targeting at-risk youth before being hired to head the North Adams-based coalition providing family and child support services.
Thursday's two-hour forum, moderated by Ashfield Town Moderator Buz Eisenberg, an ACLU lawyer who has represented prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and professor at Greenfield Community College, included questions fielded by four panelists as well as questions from the audience.
Falls Cable TV, which recorded Thursday's debate, plans to make it available for viewing on many formats, including at www.recorder.com.
It was sponsored by the Ashfield Council on Aging, the Northampton Area League of Women Voters, Falls Cable TV, WHMP, The Recorder and Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Future debates are scheduled in Pittsfield, Great Barrington and Adams.