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Berkshire Towns Debate Marijuana Rules At Annual Meetings

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Lee will conduct its annual town meeting tonight.

Great Barrington made Berkshire County history Monday night. Grace Phair was one of three Monument Mountain High School students who presented at the annual town meeting.

“We are student members of the Environment Committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group," said Phair to the assembled community members. "Our committee has worked hard to imagine a sustainable approach to providing water, talking to many people and organizations to get feedback.”

Her schoolmate and fellow committee member, Carly Terranova, continued.

“The main points of the bylaw are these: to eliminate the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored water in single use PET plastic bottles, one liter or less, in the town of Great Barrington, beginning May 1st, 2019,” said Terranova at the meeting.

Citing pollution and the expenditure of fossil fuel, the women’s presentation capped off a meeting full of support for the bylaw, which passed handily. Town moderator Michael Wise proceeded over the vote, which made Great Barrington the county’s first and the commonwealth’s third community to ban plastic bottles.

“All those in favor for the motion… all opposed… motion carries at 9:41," said Wise as cheers filled the Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium. "We’re not done! Honestly, we’re not done.”

Opposition to the ban came from small businesses who fear that the ban doesn’t account for lost sales.

Beyond the ban, the town voted to restore previously cut funding to a handful of programs. 

“We put back money in four different areas," said Great Barrington selectboard member Ed Abrahams. "It cost the median homeowner about $6.35 with all four of them. And we were able to restore parks programming, library funding, and some training money in the building inspector’s office.”

The meeting also settled a disagreement about zoning for marijuana cultivation between the town’s selectboard and the town’s planning board.

“There was a few places the planning board wanted to allow it by right, including some residential zones," Abrahams told WAMC. "The selectboard felt like, since we don’t know that much about cultivation, it should be by special permit and everywhere, so that anytime anyone wants to have a large scale cultivation — and this is commercial cultivation, not the six plants everyone’s allowed to do — anytime somebody wanted to have that, they would have to have a special hearing, the public could show up and we could evaluate it on a case by case basis.”

The voters backed the selectboard’s more cautious approach to cultivating the newly legalized plant.

In nearby Lee, Select Board chairman David Consolati says tonight’s meeting will be a similar blend of business as usual and questions ripped straight from the headlines.

“Well, most of it’s general business that we deal with every year — funding the schools, funding the DPW, funding different venues," said Consolati. "I suppose the biggest thing that everyone’s doing to be concerned with is the recreational marijuana licenses.”

With the July 1st start date for the legalized sale of marijuana approaching, Lee has some big choices to make about zoning.

“There is a downtown business district area that wants it to be allowed, and a lot of people, including myself, don’t want to see it in downtown," said Consolati. "We understand that it’s allowed, but our zoning cannot allow it in downtown.”

One of the items on the docket to be voted on tonight would impose zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses.

“Minus 500 feet from congregations of churches, school children, places of worship,” said Consolati.

Other than marijuana, he predicts it will be a typical town meeting.

The town meeting gets under way at 7 p.m.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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