GREAT BARRINGTON — While the recreational marijuana industry waits at the town's doorstep, a turf war rages between two town boards about which should regulate it.
Both the Planning Board and the Select Board are each mostly unified in stance, and so the conversation has veered into a few dust-ups at two meetings.
"It sounds like it's a little bit personal," said Select Board Vice Chairman Stephen Bannon, addressing Planning Board member Jonathan Hankin at a recent meeting. "It's not personal — I think the Planning Board does a terrific job. I don't want to make this a `Planning Board versus Select Board.'"
But now it is.
As the Select Board reviews the Planning Board's final draft of regulations for cultivation and sales of recreation marijuana, a standoff has ensued over which of these two boards will grant special permits for those looking to build a growing facility or open a shop for sales — or both.
The pressure is on: On July 1, the state will allow the marijuana industry to open its doors, after voters in 2016 approved the legalization of recreational sales and cultivation.
Like other towns across the state grappling with how to manage a new, once-illicit market, the town Planning Board has had to put in long hours to draft town-specific regulations as it waited for the state's regulations to be finalized on April 1.
The town's new marijuana bylaw will have to be approved by voters at the May 7 annual town meeting, and by the Attorney General's Office.
But what could throw a wrench into local approval of the bylaw is that the Select Board will likely argue at town meeting that the Planning Board should not be the "special permit granting authority."
Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton, and three other members of that board cite the newness of the industry and the possible complexities it may bring to town.
"You're not growing tomatoes," Stanton said. A "potential for nefarious activity" exists, he said.
"It's a huge change for this town," Bannon said. The security features required for indoor and outdoor growing operations will change the spirit of the area where they are located, he said.
It is the wider scope and higher profile of the Select Board, and that its meetings are more widely attended and always televised by CTSB-TV, that is the main thrust of Stanton and Bannon's case. It is also the board's closer working relationships with public health and safety departments, and the town manager. Only one board member, Bill Cooke, disagrees.
But Hankin and all the members of the Planning Board say it is better suited to the job.
"All we do is land use and zoning," Hankin said. "We don't have to balance budgets, we don't have to deal with the school or manage the town manager. We have time ... we're expert."
Hankin said that two of its members are architects and one is an engineer, and this gives the Planning Board an advantage.
Stanton, calling this a "turf war," said the composition of the Planning Board can change with an election.
Hankin said the same is true of the Select Board.
Bannon ended it: "The really good thing about our government is town meeting."
But Planning Board members, including Chairwoman Brandee Nelson, are concerned that if this issue causes voters to reject the entire bylaw, there would be a default to state regulations that would be open to interpretation by the town building inspector until another attempt at next year's town meeting.
For instance, Stanton has concerns about whether marijuana should be considered an industrial practice locally, which might allow it without a special permit in all industrial zones, a by-right use that in some areas of town, could change its character.
"I think it should be defined as its own thing," he later said.
Nelson said the board had Housatonic's industrial mill buildings in mind for possible re-use as growing facilities, to get those back on the tax rolls.
Most special permits are issued by the Select Board — everything from homes to ski tows, kennels to lumberyards.
The Planning Board's purview includes site-plan reviews for new developments, land-use planning and writing zoning laws. The Planning Board issues special permits only for solar projects, adult day care, assisted living residence and open space residential development.
No matter what happens, the Planning Board would still hold site-plan reviews for proposed marijuana establishment projects. And the Select Board will always draft community host agreements with growers and sellers to outline tax revenue and other issues.
It may be that Bannon is right — that voters will have to decide.
"I'm not going to back down on this issue," Stanton said.
But something will have to give for what Nelson says should be the end result.
"The goal is to get a local zoning bylaw passed so we can have local control," she said.
The Planning Board will discuss the matter at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.