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Deerfield considers more liquor, pot licenses

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For the Bulletin
Sunday, April 15, 2018

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Town officials are mulling over the possibility of expanding the available number of liquor and marijuana licenses.

“I don’t want to say we need to have more,” said Selectman Henry “Kip” Komosa at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting. “A lot of people want to have a drink with their dinner.”

The board is considering a warrant article for the April 30 Town Meeting that would add around seven liquor licenses, but the exact number hasn’t been defined. In correlation, the number of legal marijuana facilities would increase from one to two.

The town issues various kinds of liquor licenses. These include “on-premises,” which, for example, allow restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages, and “off-premises,” which are necessary for businesses such as liquor stores. The number of legal marijuana retail establishments in town is a certain percentage of the off-premises liquor licenses, explained Selectman Trevor McDaniel.

Currently, and with a few additional applications pending, the town has nearly maxed out its quota of 10 off-premises liquor licenses.

Just before the Select Board took up the discussion, Laura Newton, the baker behind Bittersweet Bakery to open on Routes 5 and 10 in the former Savages Market building, pitched for an off-premises license during a public hearing. Newton said that if the liquor license is approved, her business will sell local beers and wines to accent homemade baked goods and cafe offerings.

While there are still a few more licenses available, McDaniel noted that other businesses will come in the future.

“You can get Town Meeting authority, and then not act on it,” said Town Administrator Wendy Foxmyn, noting that she’s seen other towns have to deny upstanding businesses that otherwise would be beneficial to the community because there weren’t any liquor licenses available.

Foxmyn said the warrant will be decided on at next week’s Select Board meeting, and further discussion on the proposed expansion will be taken up then.

This comes as town officials are embroiled over marijuana regulation.

Last week, a bid by the Planning Board to put a question outlawing marijuana sales on the Town Meeting warrant was essentially denied by the Select Board. On Friday, the Select Board voted not to include the question on this year’s May 7 election ballot, nullifying the Planning Board’s proposition because state law requires that prohibition successfully pass both Town Meeting and a subsequent election.

At Wednesday’s meeting, a few residents raised concerns that the Select Board overstepped its bounds by taking choice away from Deerfield’s residents.

Select Board Chairwoman Carolyn Ness defended the board’s decision to vote against putting the question on the ballot. She noted that town residents already voted ‘yes’ to marijuana legalization in the November 2016 state elections.

“The state approved marijuana, so it’s coming. The town had 3,095 voters vote on that ballot question. Around 1,700 voted yes. They expect me to do the job, even though I was one of the ‘no’ votes,” Ness said.

In contrast to that high voter turnout in 2016, “the May ballot turnout averages less than 400,” she continued. Thus, a local vote wouldn’t accurately capture public opinion, Ness said.