Stockbridge considering temporary ban on marijuana shops

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STOCKBRIDGE — Should the town impose a temporary ban on marijuana-related businesses, with the exception of registered medical marijuana dispensaries?

That's the lead-off question facing registered voters at a special town meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 22, in the Town Offices gymnasium.

To prepare for the vote, the Planning Board at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16 will hold the legally required public hearing on the proposed zoning change that would put recreational pot businesses on hold through Dec. 31 of this year. The hearing will be in the Community Room of the Town Offices

The temporary moratorium would apply to marijuana retailers, testing facilities, product manufacturers or any other type of recreational marijuana-related businesses, according to language approved by Town Counsel Miyares & Harrington LLP.

If approved by the required two-thirds majority, the proposed new zoning bylaw would give the town time to address "complex legal, planning and public safety issues" applying to marijuana businesses that are not related to medical uses of the drug.

The temporary ban also would allow a chance for the town to review the potential impact of state regulations being prepared by the Cannabis Control Commission.

The measure is intended to give the town the rest of this year for a "comprehensive planning process" leading to new zoning bylaw provisions "consistent with sound land-use planning objectives," according to the warrant article for the special town meeting.

Those proposed zoning provisions would include the location, operation and impact of non-medical marijuana establishments. At a future town meeting, probably this fall, voters would decide whether to approve the new permanent regulations that would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

In the November 2016 general election, Stockbridge voters approved a ballot question legalizing marijuana by 60.4 to 39.6 percent, considerably higher than the statewide margin of 53.6 percent in favor, 46.4 percent against.

The state's Cannabis Control Commission is set to release new rules on recreational marijuana sales, growth, production and processing by March 15, as required by state law. It will hold public hearings across the state next month on its proposed regulations, starting at at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 5 at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield.

Beginning on April 1, the state will accept licensing requests from retailers seeking to open recreational marijuana shops as well as for facilities involved in growing, processing, testing, manufacturing, transportation, storage, sale and social use of pot. The businesses licensed by the state could open on July 1.

The state's regulators have emphasized that "nothing has changed" for them following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' surprise announcement last week reversing the Obama administration's policy allowing legal marijuana in states that permit it. Sessions encouraged U.S. attorneys to decide on whether to start aggressively enforcing federal marijuana laws in their states.

In Massachusetts, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, nominated by President Trump, has stated that his office would "aggressively investigate and prosecute" serious crimes such as the bulk cultivation and trafficking of marijuana, but prosecutors would have "discretion' in the enforcement of federal law. Lelling did not directly comment on the state's legalization of recreational pot growing, processing, testing and consumption.

Gov. Baker, who supports implementing the state law, believes Sessions made "the wrong decision," according to a statement from his office.

In Berkshire County, the North Adams City Council has declined to pursue a temporary ban on retail recreational marijuana, and Mayor Thomas Bernard has set up a Retail Marijuana Zoning Working Group to craft local zoning regulations for action by the City Council. The group is planning to meet three times this month.

A special town meeting in Clarksburg on Dec. 28 approved a new industrial service zone for recreational pot retailers.

Six towns — Dalton, Egremont, Hinsdale, Lee, Lenox and West Stockbridge — have approved temporary bans on recreational sales through this year; so have more than 100 other cities and towns statewide.

Seven other Berkshire communities are considering a moratorium: Becket, Cheshire, Great Barrington, Lanesborough, Pittsfield, Richmond and Sandisfield.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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