EGREMONT — There are no contested races on the ballot at Egremont’s town election Tuesday, but six ballot questions will have voters weigh in on whether to ban a range of cannabis licenses.
Voters can cast ballots from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall, 171 Egremont Plain Rd.
Candidates for reelection are Francine Beth Groener (assessor), Stephen L. Cohen (moderator), Mary Ann Brazie (selectman), John Wells (cemetery commissioner), Juliette S. Haas (town clerk), Margaret A. Muskrat (library trustee) and James M. Olmsted (tree warden). Stephen Kirk Lyle is also running for a five-year seat on the Planning Board.
The ballot questions deal with an issue that has generated strong reactions from some residents.
One ballot question would effectively limit the number of retail licenses in the town to one, preventing additional stores from opening other than the locally owned Devine Berkshires, which has already been approved. The other five questions would ban cultivator, product manufacturer, craft cooperative, delivery operator and transporter licenses in the town.
To take effect, the ballot questions would need a majority of voters to approve them at both the election and the June 8 town meeting.
The ballot questions, however, won’t be the last chance for residents to weigh in on the issue: The Planning Board has drafted a bylaw to regulate cannabis, and it plans to present the bylaw to the town at a public hearing following the election and town meeting. Results from the ballot questions will help the board revise the bylaw as necessary, said Jared Kelly, who chairs the board.
“We’re going to listen to the town, and we’re looking forward to seeing the results. There’s no contention here,” Kelly said. “If it’s a close vote, that will tell us something too, as we need a two-thirds vote to pass a bylaw.”
The majority of the town had approved the 2016 state referendum to legalize recreational marijuana, and residents voted down a 2019 proposal to ban all cannabis licenses temporarily until bylaws were written.
But, having shut down two proposals from outsiders to start cannabis businesses in Egremont, a vocal group of residents put forward the citizen petitions as an effort to prevent any additional attempts from outsiders.
The group does not oppose legal marijuana or personal use — most people also support Devine Berkshires, the retail shop started by Egremont residents Heidi and Ari Zorn — but rather, it does not see benefit in outsiders coming to the town to start cannabis businesses.
While proponents of the proposed businesses said they would generate jobs and revenue for the town, Egremont “seems to be doing fine” without risking possible negative impacts of new businesses, said Rick Ramsay, who co-chairs Egremont Together, the group supporting the bans.
The initial concern had to do with an influx of customers onto local roads, but marijuana legalization in New York has lessened those fears, Ramsay said. Now, concerns have to do more with the impact of possible businesses on neighborhoods and “the character of the town,” Ramsay said, citing possible odors, buildings or other changes that would impact the town’s scenery.
The ballot questions would not impact courier, research, testing or microbusiness licenses that are also available in Massachusetts.
The Planning Board circulated a letter to voters to help them make an informed choice, Kelly said. He said the board wanted to make sure voters were aware of the board’s work on bylaws so that they knew all the options before voting.
But, the board is “happy to roll with how the town votes,” Kelly said.
As currently drafted, the bylaw would allow up to two retail licenses, although that many permits would not necessarily be granted. And rather than ban cultivation, the bylaw would allow lower-tier licenses but regulate them.
Heidi Zorn said that the ballot questions would not greatly impact Devine Berkshires, although she would welcome an additional retail or cultivation business if another resident wanted to start one, as well as the revenue that business might generate for the town. Zorn said that while Devine Berkshires is prioritizing local sourcing, there are enough licenses in neighboring communities for the business to get products from if Egremont banned cultivation.
The Planning Board is also down a member following the resignation of Nick Keene, who said he resigned in part because he wanted the board to move quicker to advance a bylaw. That seat will be filled via a one-year appointment because Keene resigned after the ballot was set.
Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.