MONTEREY — Without a clear directive from residents, town officials are asking voters whether the recreational marijuana industry has a future here.
"It's very much up in the air," said Patricia Salomon, a town Planning Board member. "We've had little input from the public, and we just felt it's really not important what the Planning Board thinks — it's important what the town thinks."
At the May 4 annual town meeting and the May 7 annual election, residents will be asked whether the town should approve a ban on all recreational marijuana outfits, including retail sales, manufacturing and cultivation.
For a ban to take effect, the measure must be approved by voters at both.
The Planning Board last year held several well-advertised hearings that were sparsely attended, Salomon said. She said that without a directive from residents, the board wasn't comfortable coming up with zoning regulations for the now-decriminalized flowers.
The idea was Select Board Chairman Donald Coburn's. He said that without enough public say, it seemed prudent to take it to the voters. That way, town officials can harvest voter opinion. Or, a ban could, at the least, be a stopgap to prevent the town being governed by state regulations alone. It could also give the Planning Board more time to draft a zoning ordinance before a ban was lifted in the future.
"If the vote is strongly against it, that may affect how the Planning Board approaches deliberations in the coming year," Coburn said. "And the discussion may help."
Like Salomon, Coburn thinks residents have to decide.
Town officials across the state have faced complicated questions about the regulation of recreational marijuana since voters decriminalized it in 2016. Town planners are charged with drafting bylaws to establish where marijuana retail stores and manufacturers can set up shop.
Coburn, who said he is personally against allowing the industry in town, said not making a decision leaves the town vulnerable.
"Right now we're under state statute," he said. "That means that someone could come in and apply [for a permit] under the state regulations."
He notes that many voters did not realize the full impact of statewide legalization.
"When the town voted to decriminalize marijuana, it's not the same thing as saying you want it sold in your town," he said.
At a Select Board meeting last month, Planning Board member Nancy Marcus objected to the outright ban question posed to voters, and proposed an amendment that would instead limit where marijuana could be sold and grown.
Marcus could not be reached for comment.
Salomon said she wondered whether the lack of input from residents means there is simply a lack of concern — at least compared to neighboring towns like New Marlborough, where a Cannabis Ad-Hoc Committee was established last year and has conducted a study of voter preferences.
"It's unlike the towns around us, where they have packed meetings," she said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.