PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council will consider putting a referendum on the ballot to ban the sale of recreational marijuana.
Local attorney William Barry put forth a petition to ban marijuana retail shops. However, he wrote it before the state had passed a reworked version of the law that requires such a measure to go to a citywide vote in communities that passed the question on the statewide ballot.
"I didn't want to have pot shops at Allendale Center, Berkshire Crossings, on North Street where I work. But, the law is the law," Barry told the City Council, changing his request from instead of asking for the council to ban it to putting a ban to a vote.
Barry said there are negative health and legal consequences relating to recreational marijuana and he doesn't believe the city should be encouraging it.
"I need to take a stand on it and I think that is the message we need to send to the youth," he said.
The state Legislature debated the question for months following the vote and only recently settled on an agreement. That debate included whether or not mayors or city councils had the right to ban marijuana shops altogether. A compromised position gives mayors and councils the right to, but only in towns that have voted against it. In those where the question passed, a citywide vote is needed.
Voters in the city of Pittsfield voted in favor of the statewide ballot initiative by a margin of 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent.
The City Council opted to send Barry's revised request for a citywide vote on the issue to its ordinance and rules subcommittee to discuss. Barry said he had hoped the state lawmakers would do more to prevent shops from opening in the city, but they are "caving to special interests."
Barry received support on Tuesday from two other citizens who routinely weigh in on city matters during the council's open microphone period: Alexander Blumin and Ellen Mary D'Agostino. Both of them voiced support for a ban on such shops.
"It is absolutely inappropriate," Blumin said of marijuana shops.
D'Agostino argued that the majority of the inmates who enter the jails with drug problems report that they started with marijuana. She says the city will see even more drug abuse should shops open.
In other business on Tuesday, the City Council authorized the Airport Commission to hire the law firm Anderson & Krieger to take on a review of the contracts relating to the fixed-base operator Lyon Aviation and renegotiate a new lease.
"The end product is to have a term that is beneficial for the FBO and the city," Airport Manager Gloria Bouillon said. "It is up to the city and the airport as far as what we will be pursuing."
Bouillon said the leases are routinely reviewed but there hasn't been a renegotiation in a long time. Now, Lyon has "expressed interest to develop airport property" and the commission wants to make sure the new lease benefits the city, Lyon, and conforms with Federal Aviation Administration requirements. Anderson & Krieger specializes in the laws regarding airports and aviation.
The council also approved adopting an ordinance to allow the Police Department to use fingerprinting for non-criminal background checks. Chief Michael Wynn said the FBI and the state have moved away from a database check on the applicant's drivers licenses for such things as canvassing permits, vendor's licenses, and others to verifying identities by fingerprints.
Now, the department can't use the current system because of a state update, leaving the city with no way to perform the checks.
"I can't run the computer checks. I can't run the fingerprint checks, and I can't ask the applicant to provide their own checks. So, I am kind of jammed up," Wynn said.
Wynn said the FBI issued a notice that departments needed to switch to a fingerprinting system, which Wynn says provides the same information but identities are confirmed through fingerprinting rather than a driver's license, back in 2010 when the CORI laws were reformed. But, the computer system was still active until last year when Massachusetts updated its systems.
"We're unable to process some of those permits because we can't use the old system and we haven't yet embedded an ordinance to use the new system of fingerprints," City Solicitor Richard Dohoney told the council
Wynn said he asked multiple times since 2010 for an ordinance from prior city solicitor offices but he never got a response.
"Back to 2010, we've been sending requests over saying we are going to have to do something about this," Wynn said.
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