Egremont looks into extending pot moratorium

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EGREMONT — The town is seeking to join a small group of Massachusetts communities that have extended marijuana moratoriums past 2019.

Planning Board Chairwoman Lucinda Vermeulen said Egremont needs more time to establish local rules and regulations. Also, Egremont is a "right to farm" community, a designation that protects small farmers from burdensome lawsuits and regulations. It's not clear how that will apply to marijuana.

Massachusetts granted its first extended marijuana moratorium to Mansfield in June, according to the state Attorney General's Office. Egremont is looking into extending its moratorium by six months, to June 30.

The attorney general's decision to approve an extended moratorium surprised some marijuana proponents who noted that, in a previous decision, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said that communities that approved marijuana in the 2016 vote to legalize recreational weed could not impose a moratorium on businesses and commercial farms that went past Dec. 31, 2018. Any more time tacked onto the moratorium could be seen as "longer than necessary" and "unconstitutional."

In a statement, Healey said she is considering applications for extended moratoriums on a case-by-case basis. More than 200 of Massachusetts' 351 municipalities have marijuana bans or moratoriums, according to The Boston Globe. Last year, voting for marijuana moratoriums was popular because the state had not yet developed regulations for the new weed industry. Many communities wanted time to digest the state guidelines and write thoughtful local bylaws. The Cannabis Control Commission issued final regulations in March.

"We feel strongly about this," Vermeulen said, "and we don't have anybody knocking on our door to say, we want to set up a business and we very much want someone to set up a business."

To change the extension period, Egremont needs to hold a public hearing, though one is yet to be set. Healey's office will approve or deny applications as they are sent to her office. The Attorney General's Office is responsible for reviewing municipal votes and bylaws for their compliance with Massachusetts laws.

Vermeulen said that while the state has issued regulations, a retail pot shop has yet to commence business in Massachusetts — four final licenses were approved this week. Of the full licenses, one is going to Western Massachusetts: New England Treatment Associates in Northampton. The state is reviewing and approving or rejecting marijuana business applications. The state has issued 41 preliminary licenses to date.

"We supported marijuana in Egremont," Vermeulen said, referencing the town's 65 percent majority pro-pot stance in the 2016 election. "For that reason, we want to know what licensure will be like, and that's why we're thinking about waiting."

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @krstinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.

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