South Hadley residents to vote on marijuana retailers

Staff Writer
Published: 12/28/2017 11:58:14 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Residents will vote in January on whether to place restrictions on future retail marijuana establishments operating in town, or ban them outright.

“The vote that was taken last spring in terms of legalizing marijuana was one thing, but now, talking about commercial establishments in town and the cultivation and selling in town, that seemed like a whole different kind of decision,” said John Hine, the Select Board’s vice chairman. “We thought it was important enough to put it on the ballot for all residents to have a say.”

Two proposed bylaw amendments, one drafted by the Planning Board regulating future marijuana manufacturing or retail establishments, and another pushed forward by the Select Board that bans them outright, will be up for vote in a special Town Meeting on Jan. 10.

“We didn’t want to presuppose or try to infer it was popular or it wasn’t popular,” Town Planner Richard Harris said of the bylaws. “Therefore, we are going to take steps to reasonably regulate the product.”

At the request of Town Administrator Michael Sullivan and the Select Board, Harris drafted an article that would ban “commercial cultivation, retail sales, testing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution or any other type of licensed cannabis/marijuana related businesses.”

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed bylaws on Jan. 8 at 6:45 p.m. in Town Hall Select Board Meeting Room. On Jan. 3, Sullivan will publicly present the proposed ban at 6 p.m. in Town Hall, Hine said.

To pass, the bylaws would have to pass by vote at a Town Meeting next month and the annual municipal election in April. If passed, the ban would remain in place indefinitely unless similar steps are taken to repeal it.

Harris said few residents have attended prior public meetings, so gauging interested in the two proposed regulations is difficult.

“We encourage people to attend the hearings,” Harris said. “The more people who attend, the more input we get, and then we know what people don’t want to see.”

Regardless of whether either bylaw passes, neither will infringe on residents’ rights to use their own marijuana, or to cultivate it for personal use.

“People would still have the legal right to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana, as long as they follow state regulations,” Hine said

Last year, South Hadley residents voted to place a moratorium on the establishment of any retail marijuana establishments for one year, until July 1, 2017. The temporary moratorium was intended to allow town officials to adopt appropriate regulations governing how marijuana establishments would operate in town, issues addressed by the Planning Board’s regulatory bylaws.

The town voted in a May 10 special Town Meeting to extended that moratorium through July 1, 2018.

When the ballot question passed last year legalizing recreational marijuana, it allowed for local governments to impose “reasonable safeguards” on the operational hours, location, practices and number of marijuana retailers in each municipality. South Hadley residents voted in favor of legalization by a narrow margin on the November 2016 ballot, with 4,779 voting in favor and 4,445 voting against.

Pending the approval of state guidelines by March 15, no retail marijuana establishments are able to open in the state. The first license applications should be available by April.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com


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