By Christopher McDermott
STOCKBRIDGE — Town meeting voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to allow retail marijuana downtown and allow state-legal marijuana establishments in the Industrial Park district.
Voters also approved a plan to tax recreational marijuana retail sales at 3 percent, which is the maximum allowed under state law.
The local regulations for medical and recreational (the local bylaws say “adult use”) marijuana are effectively identical, with the exception that medical marijuana does not face the excise tax.
“We didn’t want to end up in a situation where adult-use marijuana was treated different from medical,” said associate town counsel Ivria Fried.
Marijuana establishments will also need to hold a public outreach meeting and a host community agreement with the town, in addition to all state licensing, before they can begin operations.
“We on the Select Board feel unanimously that this is a very reasonable bylaw,” said Don Chabon, Select Board chairman. “The Planning Board spent a good deal of time crafting it, and we recommend it to you.”
Under state law, the town has the power to add in that host community agreement an additional “community impact fee” of up to 3 percent of sales. This would be added to the 3 percent excise tax.
When the vote was called, there were a few scattered “no’s” to the two articles setting regulations for medical and adult-use establishments, although the “ayes” clearly satisfied the two-thirds majority needed for these regulations under state law.
The vote on the article to tax the establishments was unanimous.
Only retail establishments (defined as those which sell directly to consumers) are allowed in the downtown area, and in the downtown area thos retail businesses cannot be located within 25 feet of a school, daycare or other place where children congregate.
“It was felt that we didn’t want to have them exactly adjacent or in the same building” as a place where children congregate, Chabon said.
One voter said that this 25-foot zone seemed small (Great Barrington, by contrast, has a 200-foot zone.) Chabon responded that this was because Stockbridge’s downtown is relatively small. Elected officials visually surveyed the areas that would be affected and decided 25 feet was sufficient, Chabon said.
If voters hadn’t approved local regulations on marijuana, they would be subject to the minimum regulations put in place by the state once the town’s moratorium expired at the end of 2018.
Town officials had no trouble getting clear majorities on every article as presented to voters, but the meeting started 25 minutes later than planned as they struggle to get a quorum of enough voters to make the motions count.
The last few voters to show up received scattered applause.
The elected town moderator was unable to attend. Bob Jones was unanimously voted as temporary town moderator for the purpose of this meeting.
Kate Fletcher, who sits on the town’s Planning Board, said these new bylaws helped to strengthen “weaknesses” in the previously existing medical marijuana guidelines while also setting clear guidelines for recreational adult-use marijuana.
“The footprint of what is allowed is enormous,” Fletcher said of the old medical marijuana bylaws.
Because Stockbridge voted “yes” on the ballot to legalize recreational marijuana statewide the community would have to allow all defined uses of marijuana somewhere in the town unless there was a two-thirds majority vote both at town meeting and on an Election Day ballot to ban certain uses.
“I understand this is all still illegal at the federal level,” Fletcher told the voters.
Fried, the town’s lawyer for this meeting, said that private entities still have the right to prohibit marijuana on their properties.