North Adams residents, officials wary of retail marijuana delay

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NORTH ADAMS — City residents sent a clear signal to officials on Monday that retail marijuana should not be delayed.

At a joint public meeting between the Planning Board and City Council, residents and Planning Board members overwhelmingly opposed a proposed yearlong moratorium on retail marijuana stores.

It's unclear if the City Council will now take up the proposal.

Mayor Richard Alcombright introduced the proposal last month, citing the desire to allow the community to have a say in where marijuana shops can open for business.

"In no way, shape, or form are we asking for anything but to slow the process a little bit so the city can have time collectively to vet this," Alcombright said.

The zoning laws currently on the city's books don't address commercial marijuana businesses.

Though he personally opposed the ballot measure allowing recreational marijuana in 2016, Alcombright has maintained that his discomfort with the drug was not the driving force behind the proposal.

The ballot measure passed in North Adams with 61.9 percent approval and 53.6 percent approval statewide.

Prospective marijuana retailers are expected to begin applying for licenses in March, and sales may begin as early as July.

Following a template laid out by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Alcombright proposed the city form the North Adams Retail Marijuana Zoning Committee to determine regulations on marijuana retailers within city limits.

The committee would begin to meet once the state issues updated marijuana regulations that are expected in April and hold several public meetings in the spring and summer months.

Under Alcombright's plan, the city would have regulations approved by the City Council in October 2018.

Every City Councilor present at the meeting — President Benjamin Lamb, Keith Bona, Lisa Blackmer, Wayne Wilkinson and Joshua Moran — spoke against the moratorium.

The council did not take a formal vote on the moratorium and has not scheduled one. The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend to the council that it reject the proposal.

Several residents and councilors argued that the city has had plenty of time to get ready for recreational marijuana sales.

"We've had a year to discuss this," Bona said. "We knew this was coming."

Many also expressed concern that, given the expected limited number of retail marijuana licenses that will be made available, the city could miss out on having a retailer — and associated tax revenue — by delaying retail sales past the summer of 2018.

"We've already seen communities around us that are taking this full-force ahead," Lamb said. "The more that we put ourselves behind all those folks, the less likely it is that we can successfully benefit from it in the long-term."

Several residents and councilors noted that marijuana regulations will likely reflect that standards that alcohol and tobacco retailers have to abide by.

Councilor-elect Jason LaForest noted that the state already has regulations for the sale of medical marijuana and will likely implement similar guidelines for recreational purposes.

Resident David Willette noted that medical marijuana helped him get off prescription painkillers.

Brian Hunt reminded officials it's been a year since voters approved recreational marijuana.

"Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part," Hunt said.

Wendy Penner, the director of prevention and wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, was the only speaker at the hearing to express concern about retail marijuana, and noted the importance of its proximity to youth and visibility.

"I think it's important to keep the best interest of our youth in mind rather than more short-sighted opportunities," Penner said.

Reach Adam Shanks at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-496-6376


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