Pot bylaw hearing raises hackles in Deerfield

  • In this Feb. 17, 2016 photo, plants grow at the home of Jeremy Nickle, in his backyard in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nickel, who owns Hawaiian Holy Smokes and is applying for a dispensary, grows a variety of strains and has a medical marijuana card. Those wanting to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii face unique obstacles in a state of islands separated by federal waters. (AP Photo/Marina Riker) Marina Riker

For the Gazette
Thursday, January 11, 2018

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Following public comment and a lengthy conversation with planning board members, who oftentimes relied on different facts to support their arguments, the board decided to push the conversation on how the town should handle marijuana to a future meeting — including setting up the possibility for an amendment at the annual town meeting that could outright ban marijuana in Deerfield.

The Deerfield Planning Board voted Monday night at the Town Hall for three drafts of amendments to be brought forward at its next meeting, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m., where public comment will again be held on the matter.

The three drafts will be: A revision of the draft presented Monday, which was presented as a zoning amendment regarding marijuana cultivation and processing facilities, first drafted by the Town Counsel; an amendment on a possible moratorium; and an amendment on an outright ban of marijuana in town, which four of the six planning board members discussed at different points in the evening.

These drafts will be written by Patricia Smith, senior land use planner at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. Smith provided the board with thorough information throughout the meeting.

The vote by the planning board to move forward with those three items came following its dismissal of the public comment.

After the planning board meeting Feb. 5, the intention is to have a draft of amendments that could be presented and available at a formal public hearing. That public hearing would then determine which items make it onto the agenda for the annual town meeting in April.

The discussion of recreational marijuana comes at a time when the state’s Cannabis Control Commission is in the process of drafting how the Commonwealth’s laws will look on marijuana. Without town laws in place prior to the expected late-spring release of the state laws, those state laws would become the effective law of the land, prompting towns, like Deerfield, to plan ahead with potential regulations that best fit itself.

Throughout the public comment, emotions flared across the table and spilled out into the audience, which included Selectboard member and Chairman of the Deerfield Board of Health Carolyn Shores Ness.

Opinions differed on the legality of marijuana, following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision last week to remove the barrier that was in place, which prevented federal prosecutors from marijuana cases.

Planning board members had different takes on what that decision by Sessions meant and how it should affect the work they originally set out to do Monday.

Member Henry “Kip” Komosa brought up a recent email he said he received from John Paciorek Jr., which referenced the statement by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, who said he could not differ from federal law, which makes marijuana illegal. “That kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process,” his statement concluded.

“It may not be something we want to hear,” Komosa said, warning that “if you’re a farmer, the federal government can come in” and seize what you have. This fact was disputed by both other planning board members and farmers in public comment.

Ness and John Waite Jr., chairman of the planning board, contended that they should focus on planning at this stage, instead of waiting to see what Sessions and the federal government will do.

Member Roger Sadoski brought the conversation back to whether marijuana is worthwhile to have in town. He later noted, following public comment, that he had voted in favor of it, but now has learned more about how it will play out at the local level.

“I don’t vote for tax dollars, I vote for quality of life in Deerfield,” Sadoski Jr. said. “Do we even want this in our community?”

Ness later on in the meeting reiterated the point that she thinks it would be in their best interest to focus on getting regulations in place, instead of talking about banning what voters had already approved.

“I’m here to make sure quality of life is preserved, which means we get regulations on the books,” Ness said.

Sadoski also questioned whether the possible financial benefits for the town would outweigh potential security risks he saw.

When pressed by a farmer present on the potential security risks, Sadoski first pointed to potential break-ins and how an additional police presence might be needed, to which the farmer responded that liquor stores and breweries pose similar risks but are allowed in town.

Sadoski then cited an additional reason why he thought allowing additional zoning for recreational marijuana in town could be harmful.

“I don’t know how to phrase it, but people who are not very good characters would be coming into our community,” Sadoski said.

Addressing the farmers, some of whom are looking at marijuana as a potential cash crop of sorts, Kamosa started off saying, “I’ve worked very hard for the things I’ve accomplished,” adding that he was sure they did, too. He then said he didn’t want them to potentially lose everything they’ve worked for by the federal government coming to their farm in Deerfield and seizing their life’s work. “When you go home tonight, think about it,” he said.

An advocate for marijuana business, Joseph Kachuroi, the director of real estate of Harvest Inc., spoke during the public comment to inform the board that there are legal ways businesses currently conduct their banking, despite potential issues with federally licensed banks.

In addition to different information on the legality of marijuana in the state, there was other information new to the board at Monday’s meeting: the state Cannabis Control Commission released its first draft of its guidelines in the final week of 2017.

The planning board did seek to figure out who can have a special permit regarding cultivation and processing of marijuana, who gives out that special permit and what areas of town should be up for those special permits.