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Great Barrington Boards Feud Over Pot Permits

Town Of Great Barrington
The meeting agenda at the heart of Monday's controversy.

Town officials in Great Barrington, Massachusetts are battling over marijuana policy.
Two town boards are feuding over which will be given the status of Special Permit Granting Authority for marijuana use in town. Jonathan Hankin is the chair of the Great Barrington Planning Board, and he came to the town’s select board meeting Monday night with one question.

“I’d like to ask you why you think the board of selectmen should be the SPGA,” said Hankin.

Spoiler alert: Hankin doesn’t think it should be them.

“It’s something that they really know very little about," Hankin said. "They weren’t involved in the process and they could have been involved in the process and they weren’t.”

Great Barrington, like the rest of Massachusetts, is preparing for the start of recreational marijuana sales July 1st. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission was formed in September 2017 to establish statewide regulations on legalized marijuana. The state offered localities two paths.

“One, you can just accept what the state regulations say, or you can try to craft a local bylaw that reflects what’s best for the community and temper the state regulations in some way, and that’s what we did," said Hankin. “We had been working on that bylaw for months, and we had all of those open sessions. Then we had two sessions of public hearing, which went to probably five or six hours, and one member of the select board showed up, none of the other four did. It seems to me it was something they should have addressed in the public hearing.”

Hankin has two objections over how the select board is seeking to become the sole body that determines how retail pot is produced and sold in Great Barrington. The first concerned the board’s agenda for Monday’s meeting.

“They were clearly here to talk about the marijuana bylaw that we drafted, and what the agenda calls for is review and discussion of all non-financial warrant articles, which seemed a very hidden way to approach it," Hankin said.

Second, he doesn’t think the select board is qualified to handle the matter.

“This is a land issue, and that’s all the planning board deals with, are land use issues. And also, the current makeup of the planning board is extremely sophisticated in these matters, because we have a licensed engineer and two licensed architects out of a five-member board, that’s pretty exceptional, anywhere in the Commonwealth I suspect, but that’s who we are,” said Hankin.

Sean Stanton has been Great Barrington’s select board chairman for the past decade. This debate comes in the final weeks of his last term. He will not be seeking re-election May 15th.

“There are a lot of issues where the select board is the special permit granting authority, more in fact- significantly more than the planning board is, and I think, like I said, the select board has I think a broader view of what’s going on in town, and so it’s important that we are involved- or, the select board, not necessarily we, because I won’t be here in a month and a half- but the select board’s involved in that process,” said Stanton.

Stanton sees marijuana policy as effecting more than just land in Great Barrington.

“It’s land use, it’s public safety, it’s budgeting, it’s the character of the community, what kind of town do we have, what kind of town do we want to have, and all of those things have to be looked at, and it’s not just what are we going to do on this lot at this time,” Stanton said.

As far as obscuring the issue in the meeting agenda, Stanton felt the board had already set precedent about discussing the topic.

“We could have been more specific, but we didn’t come to specifically talk about this one issue. We’re certainly not trying to hide anything, and ultimately the town meeting will have the opportunity to hear the motion as the select board puts them forward, and have a debate as to whether or not they think the select board should be the special permit granting authority or the planning board should be,” said Stanton.

The Great Barrington Town Meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Monument Mountain High School on Monday, May 7th.

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