At Thursday night’s town meeting, Lee, Massachusetts finalized its marijuana bylaws.
With legalized marijuana coming to Massachusetts July 1st, Lee has found answers to its questions about the plant — for now.
“There’s so much ado being made about this, I’ve never seen so much hoo-ha over a plant in my entire life. And that’s not only Berkshire County, but the United States," said lifelong Lee resident Diedre Consolati at town meeting Thursday. She was referring to the major source of debate at the meeting in the southern Berkshire County town of about 6,000 — the second of two amendments to the town’s marijuana bylaws that would ban retail marijuana from downtown Lee.
“This is a medicinal," said Consolati. "I don’t think we should be as restrictive as we’re being, and I think in the future we might change our minds. So I’m in favor of keeping everything on the table.”
The town’s mandatory 500-foot buffer zone between marijuana retail establishments and places of worship, schools, and centers where children congregate already eliminates the area, which stretches from High Street to the Housatonic River.
Select board chair David Consolati — who said that a poll of downtown businesses supported the ban 2 to 1 — explained the circumstances in which a special permit might be issued to override the ban and the buffer zone.
“Say if there’s a warehouse or a giant mill, right in between the two, and it’s totally locked, geographically from any church or anything else, that might be a situation where you could do that,” he said.
The town’s bylaw limits the number of retail marijuana licenses to two.
Josh Cohen, owner of Moe’s Tavern on Railroad Street in Lee, compared his experience living in Vail, Colorado, with that in Lee. Vail has had a moratorium on retail marijuana since 2012, pushing the stores to nearby towns.
“What happened is that a nice establishment opened. Another one opened up. And then in between those two, a brewery opened up. And a coffee shop. And a sandwich shop. And all of a sudden, you’ve got businesses now that aren’t even looking at downtown," said Cohen. "We run the risk of abandoning a lot of properties downtown in the future, I think, and basically building a whole new business and retail district that we might not be expecting.”
Cohen was still comfortable voting for the bylaw despite the downtown ban amendment, which voters ultimately approved. With the amendments dealt with, David Consolati put the stakes of the bylaw vote in stark terms.
“Whether you just agreed or disagreed with what just happened on these last two motions, at this point in time, is irrelevant," said Consolati. "You need to vote a two-thirds majority to pass this language now, because without that vote, it becomes the wild west. We have no zoning, we have no ability to grab taxes, we have no ability to do anything. So whether you’re happy or unhappy with what just happened on those amendments, this is a time you all need to stand together and vote for this warrant as it reads.”
The two-thirds majority was achieved, and the bylaw was adopted.
The first amendment to the bylaw removed a limit of two licenses per type of marijuana business from the 14 non-retail licenses the town will make available. Lee also officially repealed its moratorium on recreational marijuana, passed at its 2017 town meeting, and adopted a 3 percent sales tax on marijuana retailers — the highest rate possible.