Town residents gathered in Great Barrington, Massachusetts for a public forum on marijuana bylaws Wednesday night.
The meeting was designed to solicit community feedback on two issues pertaining to marijuana. First: whether the town of around 7,000 should prohibit retail establishments from its downtown with a zoning bylaw. The second was about where to cap the number of licenses for retail marijuana sales. The town currently has one open store – Theory Wellness, the county’s first – and four other host agreements in place for new marijuana businesses. Residents spoke at the meeting on both issues – and on a larger question about Great Barrington itself.
“It’s not about if you’re pro or against marijuana – I think it’s more the town itself. What is our town? What does our town look like?" asked Alex Sarbib. “It’s hard to see the SoCo Creamery – kids with ice cream – and next door, a dispensary. It’s like oil and water. It might not work together.”
“Early on, studying marijuana back in May, I spoke with an attorney. And he goes, what is Great Barrington about? And he said it’s about tourism, culture, second home owners. That’s our brand," said Michelle Loubert. “Then I thought about being the number one small town in America by the Smithsonian Magazine. And I don’t think I’ve said this before this board, but I have said it before other boards – my husband and I were having our SUV serviced down in Danbury, Connecticut. And it turned out we had to bring it back the next day. And I said, ugh – we come all the way from Great Barrington. ‘Oh, marijuana town.’ We went from number one town to marijuana town. And that broke my heart.”
“To my mind, there seems to be some sort of moral issue that allowing unfettered access for people to sell marijuana downtown is somehow affects the town’s reputation," said Holly Hamer. “And I don’t really understand it because it seems to me that there are extreme measures taken to control the sale of marijuana, from the lack of advertising, the lack of being able to use the name, the lack of being able to put something on your store front to say what you are and what you do, the waiting room the separation, the incredible amount of packaging that you go through, that it seems like all safeguards that can be mustered have been taken against any inadvertent use of the drug.”
“Saying you can’t have them downtown because there’s children and stuff – or liquor stores. It’s like, why can a child go in a liquor store and it’s acceptable for the child to see the liquor in the windows but it’s not acceptable for pot or any of that, that’s all wrong? Why is that wrong?" asked Maggie Bona. “I don’t think we’re educating people enough on what cannabis is good for. My mom has MS. Like I said, she’s disabled – she uses medical cannabis. We grow it. It’s legal. Like, in case everyone forgot that, it’s legal to grow your own plants, so you don’t actually have to go to the shop.”
The selectboard voted to recommend at the annual town meeting on May 4th and 7th that Great Barrington cap its marijuana retail licenses at 7 to match the number of full liquor licenses. It took no action on the question of the downtown zoning bylaw – in part, because there is currently no definition of what the downtown district is.