From the local level to Washington, compromise in governance is a precious resource: valuable but rare. We were happy to see a small Berkshire town mine some at its recent annual town meeting.
Voters found a way to balance the need for tax revenue with preservation of the wild landscape cherished by residents.
With a so-called “grand compromise,” Sandisfield was able to synthesize a way forward out of a debate on marijuana regulations that had been dividing the town since 2019. The new bylaw will allow a sizable canopy of cultivation space, but only on parcels at least 50 acres with road setbacks of at least 250 feet. The bylaw also puts in place other limits on odors, number of retail pot shops and marijuana home delivery, in addition to establishing a citizens’ subcommittee that will review cannabis permit applications in order to advise the Select Board.
Communities across the county are grappling with the growing pains of the nascent marijuana industry and the tough questions of how to regulate it. Many are struggling, and from Becket to North Adams, this has led to more polarization than productive policy-making. While Sandisfield similarly struggled with their own divisive debate over how to handle marijuana operation proposals, it’s nice to see this small South County town ultimately buck this troubling trend. Both sides appear to see the newly minted bylaw as a healthy balance between taking advantage of a promising new revenue stream for the town and protecting the character of a landscape highly valued by residents. As a result, it was backed by a nearly unanimous vote by residents at town meeting.
The exact parameters of this bylaw certainly won’t fit for every municipality wrestling with marijuana policy, but it’s the spirit of cooperation demonstrated in this grand bargain that we believe is worth highlighting. After tensions over the issue came to a head in Sandisfield and a first try at a bylaw failed last year, the opposing factions came together and forged a commonsense compromise that satisfied nearly everyone. The key word there is “nearly.” Former Select Board Chairman George Riley wanted looser restrictions on where cultivation is allowed, while on the other end there are surely a few who want no marijuana anywhere in their town. It should be neither a surprise nor an impediment to progress that not everyone gets exactly what they want. That is the nature of compromise: seeking a doable solution that is satisfactory to the most amount of people.
Sandisfield’s spirit of cooperation is something to get behind — not just for other communities struggling to nail down marijuana policy, but for Beacon Hill and D.C. as well.