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Chairman Hugh Daley conducts Monday's meeting at Select Board member Anne O'Connor looks on.

Williamstown Officials Seek Public Comment on Marijuana

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board wants to hear from residents about whether the town should have a ban or moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana.
 
The board this winter is facing a couple of decision points concerning pot. The distinct but related questions are whether to support a proposal for a medical marijuana facility on Main Street and whether to propose a special town meeting to consider the question of a ban on recreational pot businesses.
 
The former stems from a request by a New York firm that needs a "letter of non-opposition" from the town in order to proceed with its licensing process with the commonwealth.
 
The latter grew out of discussion at the May 2017 annual town meeting, when voters approved zoning regulations for potential recreational marijuana businesses. At the time, the idea of enacting a zoning bylaw was pitched as a defensive measure against unregulated development that would allow the town to revisit the question of whether it wants to pursue a local ban on non-medical pot sales.
 
Since May, some of the commonwealth's regulatory framework has begun to take shape, and the town has received clarity on the question of how it could, theoretically, enact such a ban.
 
Because the majority of the town's voters were in favor of a 2016 statewide referendum on decriminalizing pot, the commonwealth requires a two-stage process for either a temporary moratorium or outright ban on recreational sales: both a two-thirds majority at town meeting and a ballot vote.
 
Since town meeting is a deliberative body that could potentially amend the language of any question before it and because the language passed by the meeting and at the ballot needs to be identical, Town Manager Jason Hoch recommended to the board Monday that it makes sense to begin any such process with town meeting. In order to put the question on the May ballot, a special town meeting prior to the town election would be required.
 
The question before the board on Monday: Is any of that necessary?
 
Although there were voters at the annual town meeting who appeared to favor a local ban, the members of the Select Board said Monday evening they have heard little from their constituents about the question since then.
 
"The most common response I get is, 'I thought we already voted on this,' " Chairman Hugh Daley said.
 
Meanwhile, the more immediate question before the board is what to do about the request from Silver Therapeutics to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the Colonial Plaza on Main Street (Route 2).
The town has scheduled an information session for residents on Tuesday, Jan. 16, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., to learn more about the proposal from Silver Therapeutics.
 
Although the Select Board members hope to give adequate time and attention to the specifics of the medical marijuana proposal, they fully expect the conversation next week to include questions about the recreational pot issue.
 
That is partly because Joshua Silver was upfront about his intention to transition the proposed medical facility to a medical and recreational pot store after the commonwealth finalizes the licensing procedure for non-medical pot on March 15.
 
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission plans a series of listening sessions across the state before that March 15 date, starting with an 8:30 meeting on Monday, Feb. 5, at Berkshire Community College.
 
The town received a little bit of guidance on how a medical marijuana dispensary like the one sought by Silver might transition to selling recreational pot.
 
"A medical facility wishing to convert to growing/processing/selling of recreational marijuana will have to apply to the CCC for a recreational license," town counsel Joel Bard wrote the Select Board after reviewing the still developing CCC regulations. "It is not automatic but they are given priority over new applicants in the first year and would certainly have the benefit of having been through the vetting process for their medical license.
 
"For recreational facilities, there is no equivalent to the requirement for a letter of  support/non-opposition so there is not the same opportunity for the Town to say no during the licensing process. The opportunity to deny would arise in the zoning special permit process but there would have to be a basis for denying the application."
 
Silver and representatives from his company will be at the Jan. 16 informational session. The Select Board plans to make a decision on whether to oppose a medical marijuana facility at its Jan. 22 meeting.
 
Although no one on the board has expressed anything but support for the idea of medical marijuana, the idea that such a facility, once in place, could transition to recreational pot has given some members of the board pause, and they want to know whether their constituents have any concerns, and, more importantly, any interest in discussion about a possible ban or moratorium.
 
"Make an effort to communicate with your Select Board," Daley said, speaking directly to the camera of the town's community access television station, WilliNet. "You can also send stuff to the town manager.
"We're interested."
 
Select Board member Jane Patton, not for the first time, lamented the lack of participation at town meetings and expressed the hope that next Tuesday's information session will break the mold and be well attended.
 
"I'm stunned at how few people really show up at these things," Patton said. "If you care about this, get there."
 
The Select Board can be emailed at selectmen@williamstown.gov.

Tags: marijuana,   marijuana dispensary,   medical marijuana,   

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