Great Barrington voters to decide whether to cap pot shops at four

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Responding to the concerns of residents, town officials will let voters decide whether the number of retail recreational marijuana shops in town should be capped at four.

Voters also will determine whether two of those four should have local ownership, or possible minority ownership through the Cannabis Control Commission's program to help people who live in or have lived in 29 cities across the state that have suffered the brunt of marijuana laws. In Berkshire County, those cities are Pittsfield and North Adams.

Given that there already is one store up and running, and applications for four more are in the works, a grandfather clause means that five stores could be the upper limit, should all those permits be granted. The limit would not affect manufacturers.

The Select Board voted unanimously Monday to put the limit question on the warrant for the May 6 Annual Town Meeting. Three of the five members were present.

"People have said to me, `There are already too many approved in town ... where they are is in the wrong location, etc.,' " said board Chairman Stephen Bannon. "This is a large concern in town."

The commission's rules require the number of recreational facilities allowed in any town to be a minimum of 20 percent of the number of package stores.

The town currently has seven all-alcohol liquor stores, and two shops currently selling only beer and wine, with a third on the way.

Board member Kate Burke said she also wants to consider the potential for economic fallout when and if surrounding states also legalize marijuana and if the entire nation goes in that direction.

She also said that when town residents voted in 2016 to legalize it, they hadn't thought about how stores might proliferate and possibly change the character of the town.

"The majority of people that I talked to didn't realize that they didn't vote for a limit," she said.

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But some voters might also be wary of curtailing a product that, statewide, has already grossed $59 million from Nov. 20, when the first retail store opened, to March 17, according to data from the CCC.

The commission and local municipalities began taking applications for licenses July 1. Theory Wellness began selling recreational marijuana Jan. 11. The company initially opened in 2017 as Great Barrington's first medical marijuana dispensary.

As soon as permitting and state licensing are complete, two more shops are planning to open downtown. Two plan to open on Main Street — one on South Main Street, and the other just north of downtown.

And towns are looking forward to that 3 percent tax from sales. Retailers first pay a 20 percent total tax to the state, which takes its 17 percent before kicking the rest back to the town.

But town officials are still grappling with uncharted territory, and how to regulate something that, until last year, was still sold on the black market.

Other town meeting warrant items

The Select Board and the Finance Committee unanimously approved the Berkshire Hills Regional School District's fiscal 2020 operating and capital budgets. Now, voters will decide whether to approve the $26.2 million operating budget, a 4.2 percent increase over last year. Combined with a $2.2 million capital budget, the overall total is $28.4 million, an increase of 4.3 percent.

The board also placed other items on the warrant that some members said likely would generate long discussion, including whether the town should keep a registry of homes used as short-term rentals.

The town has been working to regulate rentals of fewer than 31 days in the same manner as it does traditional lodging. Town officials say this will keep the playing field even, and keep the housing market available for local buyers. A new bylaw outlining these regulations also will go on the warrant.

Voters also will weigh in on citizen petitions that include whether to rename Monument Valley Regional Middle School after W.E.B. Du Bois, and whether to repeal the townwide ban on the sale of plastic water bottles that are 1 liter or less. The plastic bottle ban took effect Jan. 1, and enforcement will begin May 1, 2020.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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