Dalton Select Board aims for extending pot moratorium

DALTON — Marijuana retailers could eventually set up shop in Dalton, after a potential reversal failed to gain traction this week.

The Select Board decided at its recent meeting not to put the question of banning recreational marijuana establishments in town on the annual town meeting warrant this spring.

Instead, the board unanimously chose to request a motion on the annual town meeting warrant to extend the town's moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses until Dec. 31 — the latest date possible.

The town's existing moratorium expires June 30.

Dalton voters narrowly approved legalizing recreational marijuana statewide Nov. 8, 2016, with 51 percent in favor.

"This is not like prohibition," Town Manager Ken Walto said at Monday's meeting. "It's still illegal [federally]."

Because Dalton voted in favor of legalization, the decision to ban recreational marijuana establishments would have had to go to a town meeting vote and be a ballot question at the town election.

Edward Holub, a member of the Select Board, was in favor of putting the potential ban to a town meeting vote.

"People don't necessarily want [marijuana] in their town," he said. "It's not any different than towns that are dry towns."

If the town were to vote on a ban on recreational marijuana, it probably wouldn't reach a large cross-section of the town — the town meeting and town election could have limited voter turnout, said John Boyle, a member of the board.

And the town's voters have voted to legalize marijuana in the state, which includes the town of Dalton, he said.

The board would face a "firestorm of criticism" if it circumvented that decision, he said.

The board also voted to direct the Planning Board to work on potential regulation of recreational marijuana — its sales, cultivation and public consumption.

Recreational marijuana could legally be sold in Massachusetts starting in July.

Approval in Dalton for the legalization of recreational marijuana was mixed at the time of the 2016 vote.

Ward 1 had 53.1 percent of votes in favor, while Ward 2 had 48.9 percent.

A total of 3,416 votes were cast.

The board could also have voted to simply let the moratorium expire.

That option wouldn't allow for regulation of incoming marijuana establishments.

"[If we] do nothing, it allows distributors to make the rules," said Dalton Police Chief Jeffrey Coe at the meeting.

He asked the board to consider the comprehensive nature of the legalization of marijuana, and ensure that all questions regarding the establishment, distribution and use of marijuana in the town get answered.

"It's really a comprehensive law," he said. "The people have spoken, and it's up to the town."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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