Editorial: Marijuana divides Deerfield officials 


Published: 4/9/2018 7:28:39 PM

A bid to prohibit marijuana cultivation and sales in Deerfield is causing consternation and division among town officials.

While the state’s voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana in the 2016 referendum, it’s up to individual towns to decide whether to prohibit recreational pot within their boundaries and how to regulate the growing, processing and selling of marijuana.

Even though a majority of Deerfield voters backed legalization of pot in the referendum, some town officials seem to be having second thoughts, or other thoughts altogether. Those differences have surfaced in somewhat heated debates on the Planning Board and between the planners and the Select Board.

A somewhat conflicted Planning Board voted to put prohibition on the April 30 Town Meeting agenda, but at the same time the Select Board struck the question from next month’s election. Voting for prohibition in an election and Town Meeting is a required step in making Deerfield “dry.” This year’s election is scheduled for May 7.

Select Board Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness and Selectman Trevor McDaniel kept prohibition off the ballot, with Selectman Henry “Kip” Komosa opposed.

“I think you’re going to regret it. The whole thing about America is to have the choice,” Komosa said, stressing that he’s not against marijuana, but wants the community to decide, not town officials. “If everything works out, good. If the community makes the decision, good. If you make the decision, it’s on you.”

Ness has argued that Deerfield voters already spoke in the November 2016 election, in which 52 percent favored marijuana legalization. She argued the comparatively low turnout of a few hundred in a spring town election should not be allowed to overturn the referendum, in which 3,095 voters cast ballots.

“You’re talking about 8 or 11 percent of voters who come out in May ... you’re not getting a fair cross section,” Ness argued.

Voter turnout aside, Ness also noted that surrounding towns have already passed bylaws to allow marijuana regulation and sales. And if Deerfield doesn’t do the same, she argued, it will miss out on potential tax revenue and favorable host agreements as a funding source for educational or law enforcement programs.

Komosa said that residents should have the final say on whether or not Deerfield allows marijuana cultivation and sales within town limits.

For the moment, with prohibition off the table altogether, marijuana zoning rules the Planning Board has passed are the only pot regulation that voters will take up at Town Meeting.

Komosa argues the public should get another chance to decide whether to allow pot business in town. Since the 2016 referendum, Komosa said, he’s spoken to local residents who have changed their mind on the issue.

“It’s not that I’m against pot. I’m just trying to do what’s best for the people,” he said.

Under the marijuana zoning regulations that will be on the April 30 Town Meeting warrant, marijuana could be cultivated and sold in areas zoned commercial or industrial, and could be cultivated with a special permit on at least five acres of land zoned residential or agricultural.

The planners themselves are conflicted on the issue, having voted 4-2 to recommend prohibition, which is no longer on the table, and splitting evenly 3-3 on the regulations.

So, for the moment, it’s hard to see where this debate is headed. One thing that was clear watching the debates among Select Board members and planners, is that all these town officials feel strongly that they are doing the right thing for the town. While their positions head in different directions, they are coming from the right place.

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