New England Newspapers
SANDISFIELD -- Voters packed town hall and overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have allowed the town to explore running a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary on Wednesday.
During a special town meeting, a standing-room only crowd rejected -- with 57 against and 23 in support -- an article that would have allocated $30,000 for a consultant who would advise the town on how to submit an application before next week’s competitive filing deadline. A two-thirds majority was required for approval.
The state is currently accepting applications for up to 35 statewide dispensaries. The deadline is Aug. 22.
Strategic Planning Committee member David Hubbard spoke supportively about the creation of a nonprofit, and he said the recommendation is based on the town’s finances, which is funded by a tax rate that has been increasing since 2000.
"We have an outsized obligation for expenses and we have undersized methods to get revenue," Hubbard said.
While other Berkshire County towns have adopted moratoriums that would delay a dispensary from coming to town, the Sandisfield’s Strategic Planning Committee recommended the article and claimed there’s an opportunity for the town to capitalize and raise revenue on the legal use of medical marijuana.
"I really think it’s something that Sandisfield can take advantage of," Strategic Planning Committee member Kathy Jacobs said. "It will give us a revenue stream and it will be a gamble. Š If we do win the license, I think it could really make some good changes in the town."
Under the recommendation, the town would have explored creating a nonprofit with a board of directors to manage operations. Revenues would have gone to support road repair, aging infrastructure and other town costs.
Hubbard said growing business in town could take decades, and state-owned land doesn’t provide revenue to cover more than 80 miles of roads that need repairs.
Hubbard said it wasn’t unrealistic to expect the nonprofit could generate as much as $240,000 a year.
However, Hubbard and Jacobs were unable to quell concerns about the lofty financial cost and business operations. Residents described themselves as supportive of medical marijuana use, but there were concerns about a windfall of operating fees.
Sandisfield resident Sonja Gray raised questions about the cost. To apply, a medical marijuana dispensary would need to pay a $1,500 fee to submit an application and $30,000 for the second phase. Dispensaries would be required to pay an annual $500 registration fee for each of their employees. The annual registration fee is $50,000.
There were also concerns about a crime spike in a town without a full-time police department. Seventy percent of marijuana would need to be grown locally. There were other questions whether the town was equipped to handle the processing.
There were others who raised questions about how the federal government would react.
"The federal government has not approved medical marijuana, so it means anytime they could come in and raid us," said one resident. "I am not saying that would happen, but Sandisfield is just small enough and quirky enough that it would be us that they would raid." The comment elicited laughter from the crowd, including from the commentator.
Treasurer Teresa DellaGuistina said she called the state Department of Revenue about using town reserves to meet the Department of Public Health’s reserve requirements for a marijuana business.
"He said we are not supposed to give any nonprofit organization any money of any kind," DellaGuistina said.
Two other articles were also passed. The articles concerned the hiring of consultants to provide recommendations on building repairs and another article to fund roof repairs.