South Hadley forum to discuss recreational pot sales ban, health board changes

  • South Hadley town officials listen to feedback on a bylaw amendment that would ban all commercial marijuana establishments in the community at the Jan. 10 special Town Meeting. The measure passed and now heads for a vote at the April 10 town election. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/27/2018 12:09:02 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — Advocates for and against a plan to ban the sale and production of recreational marijuana in town will make their cases at a public forum Thursday, two weeks before residents weigh in on a ballot question at the annual town election on April 10.

The forum will also include information about ballot questions that would change the size of the Board of Health and the way people are named to it.

The forum, sponsored by the nonpartisan citizens group Know Your Town, will take place at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium. Veteran television news journalist Ray Hershel from Western Mass News will moderate the evening and field questions from the audience.

One ballot question seeks to ban the retail sale, commercial cultivation, testing, manufacturing, packaging and distribution of marijuana products, or any other activities related to the commercial sale of marijuana in South Hadley. The questions deal with recreational sales only.

Two opposing panelists will present their stances on the ban, then answer questions from the audience.

Dr. Gregory Petrosky, a psychologist and longtime South Hadley resident; Dr. Robert Roose, vice president of Behavioral Health for Mercy Medical Center; and Dr. Robert Abrams, a retired founder of Holyoke Pediatrics, will argue why the town should ban commercial marijuana operations and establishments.

“As an addiction expert and specialist I believe strongly that South Hadley residents should vote yes to banning retail sale and commercial activity regarding marijuana in the town,” Roose said. “For me this is very much about supporting our town’s health and supporting our town’s youth by preventing excess costs by introducing marijuana into a community.”

Roose explained that potential tax revenues from marijuana businesses that open in town could be negated by the increased costs incurred by hospitals and law enforcement, as well as lower property values for homeowners.

Another panel featuring Renee Sweeney, chairwoman of the South Hadley Cultural Council; Peter Bernard, president and director of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council; and Richard Evans, an attorney with over 35 years of experience specializing in marijuana legalization law, will argue why the town should not institute such a ban.

“I thought that it was shortsighted for people to put it on the ballot in the first place,” Sweeney said. “I thought it was voted on and settled already and we didn’t need to be revisiting it.”

Sweeney said that with neighboring communities already allowing the commercial marijuana businesses, South Hadley would only lose the potential tax revenue while being subjected to the negative public health effects argued by proponents of the ban.

By state law, communities like South Hadley that voted in favor of legalization in November 2016 can only ban such businesses within their borders with approval from voters. South Hadley voters approved recreational marijuana by a narrow margin, 4,779 to 4,445. Statewide, voters legalized recreational marijuana by a majority 53.6 percent.

Town Meeting approved the ban in January. Town Meeting members also voted to adopt zoning articles that limited where retail sales and manufacturing could occur. The zoning was done as a measure to have regulations in place if the ban is rejected.

Each panel will have 15 minutes to present their stance, after which they will answer audience questions delivered orally or submitted in writing.

Board of Health

The first two nonbinding questions will gauge the public’s interest in changing the governing structure of the Board of Health. The first asks whether board members should be appointed by the Select Board. Currently, three Board of Health members are elected by the town and serve three-year terms.

The second question asks whether residents would favor changing the Board of Health from a three- to five-member board. The change would add one elected position and allow the health director to serve as the fifth member with full voting and participation rights.

No speakers volunteered to give presentations at the forum, and instead will rely on Hershel to read prepared statements to present their sides, according to a Know Your Town press release.

Town Hall is located 116 Main St. The program will be free and open go the public.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.


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