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Pittsfield Bans Future Outdoor Commercial Weed Cultivation

A cannabis plant.
By Skalle-Per Hedenhös - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82766847

The largest community in Berkshire County has outlawed all future outdoor cannabis cultivation following a city council vote this week.

While Pittsfield, Massachusetts has two active commercial grow operations, no more will be allowed after a 10-1 vote Tuesday night.

City Planner CJ Hoss explained why the city’s Community Development Board – which proposed more restrictive amendments to existing zoning ordinances as an alternative – opposes a full-on ban.

“They feel that it's worthwhile tacking on a setback from residential structures that would provide a significant amount of additional protection from actual neighborhoods," said Hoss. "And then on top of that, you know, in the end, this is a use that is allowable under a special permit is granted from the zoning Board of Appeals.”

Hoss addressed councilors’ concerns about the skunky smell of cannabis, many of which were stoked by residents’ complaints about one of the city’s marijuana dispensaries on Dalton Avenue and its attached indoor grow facility.

“Berkshire Roots was one of the first cultivation operations in the state," he explained. "So unfortunately, there have been a few trials and tribulations, but we feel pretty confident that the solutions that were developed in a few months back should really fix the existing odor issue there and any issues in the future or really make it really much less of a problem.”

He said he’d spoken with town officials in Sheffield, which hosts multiple outdoor grow operations.

“In September, you know, during the- Right before harvest, there is odor emitted," Hoss said. "And it really did, you know, it really depends on a few things. Distance. Odor is very subjective, it's not – noise, I can stand with a noise device at a property line and measure that. Odor’s a little different. Because a lot of it comes down to how you perceive and smell so and everyone's different.”

At-Large Councilor Earl Persip tied outdoor cannabis cultivation into a host of other development issues that have caused controversy in Pittsfield like solar arrays and the infamous South Street cell tower that has led to months of protest.

“Let’s stop attacking the neighborhoods, let's preserve some of the outdoor space," said Persip. "The reason we're seeing home sales skyrocket is because people are realizing the Berkshires are a great place to be. And they're not a great place to be if we are nothing but solar fields, outdoor cultivation, cell towers and anything else that just really jeopardizes a neighborhood. So this is not about banning cannabis. This is not an attack on cannabis. I support indoor cultivation. Even though there has been some issues that smell you can control you can adjust things you can buy machinery that can control smell. You can't control outdoor smell.”

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio shared his own experience with outdoor cultivation facilities from a trip to Bennington, Vermont.

“They cultivate CBD up there," he said. "I was on the highway. I turned off to eat at a Chili's. Alls you could smell was skunk smell as soon as I stepped out my car. I couldn't even smell the grill from Chili's. I smelled the cannabis that was being grown all over the place. And the people we met with said, Oh yeah, the whole town has got it all over the place, anywhere you go smells like skunk.”

The sole vote against the ban was Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey.

“I've had properties in my ward, one of them having over 150 acres, where they've discussed outdoor cultivation, and they've discussed getting into the business," he said. "The next closest abutter to them is a quarter mile down the road, and we would be telling these people, under no circumstances can they use their 150 acres to cultivate cannabis.”

He said the outdoor cultivation facility in his ward hasn’t proven to be a burden on the community.

“It's unfair to discourage our residents from trying to get into something that could potentially make them a lot of money, when they don't have abutters,” said Kavey.

Recreational cannabis use was legalized in Massachusetts in December 2016, with legal sales beginning in 2018.

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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