Pot prohibition struck from Deerfield ballot

  • From left to right, Town Administrator Wendy Foxmyn, Selectman Henry “Kip” Komosa, Selectwoman Carolyn Shores Ness, and Selectman Trevor McDaniel complete paperwork after closing this year’s Town Meeting agenda at Friday’s Selectboard meeting. RECORDER STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/30/2018 11:20:30 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — A bid to prohibit marijuana cultivation and sales in Deerfield is dead before hitting Town Meeting floor.

Following up a vote by the Planning Board Monday to put prohibition on the April 30 Town Meeting agenda, the Selectboard Friday struck the same question from next month’s election ballot — a required checkpoint in the two-step process. In order for a prohibition on marijuana to be enacted, a bylaw amendment must be approved at Town Meeting and then pass a subsequent vote at the annual election. This year’s election is scheduled for May 7.

“It was a hard decision to make. The lack of participation in a May ballot is what concerns me,” Selectboard Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness told an empty room in the municipal office building during the meeting Friday. At the meeting, Ness and Selectman Trevor McDaniel passed the denial 2-1 against Selectman Henry “Kip” Komosa, who cast a favorable vote Monday as a member of the Planning Board.

“I think you’re going to regret it. The whole thing about America is to have the choice,” Komosa said, stressing that he’s not against marijuana, but wants the community to decide, not town officials. “If everything works out, good. If the community makes the decision, good. If you make the decision, it’s on you.”

Low public turnout

Initially, the Selectboard was scheduled to meet on Wednesday. However, because legally required advance public notice wasn’t given in time, this week’s meeting was moved to Friday (the deadline to close this year’s Town Meeting agenda). There were only a few people in the audience throughout the 2 ½-hour session, and the room was empty when the marijuana prohibition item was taken up, despite an engaged discussion by the Selectboard.

Before Friday’s vote, Ness argued that Deerfield voters have already made their opinion clear, citing the November 2016 election in which 3,095 local constituents voted favorably for marijuana legalization by a 10 percent margin. 52 percent of residents voted in favor of marijuana, and 42 percent voted against it, according to Ness.

In contrast to that high voter turnout, Ness said spring elections usually only draw a few hundred people, noting the town’s lowest turnout was 171 people. In last year’s election, 308 people voted, based on municipal records. Comparatively, according to 2013 census data, Deerfield’s population was 5,089. A year earlier in 2012, the town had 3,676 registered voters.

“You’re talking about 8 or 11 percent of voters who come out in May,” Ness said. “You’re not giving people a fair input. I voted ‘no’ in November, and now I would vote ‘yes.’ I understand why people want another opportunity, but you’re not getting a fair cross section.”

Ness said that she changed her opinion based on the vote of Deerfield’s constituents in order to uphold their decision.

Voter turnout aside, Ness also noted that surrounding towns have already passed bylaws to allow marijuana regulation and sales. And if Deerfield doesn’t do the same, she argued it will miss out on potential tax revenue and favorable host agreements as a funding source for educational or law enforcement programs.

Komosa said that residents should have the final say on whether or not Deerfield allows marijuana cultivation and sales within town limits. McDaniel countered that it’s the job of those on the Selectboard to “take responsibility for what they asked us to do, and move forward with the regulations.”

A controversial issue

Regulation of marijuana cultivation and sales has sparked heated controversy at times throughout Deerfield in recent months, manifesting itself most publicly in town meetings. At Monday’s Planning Board meeting, the board begrudgingly signed off on two questions dealing with marijuana regulation: Either outlaw marijuana altogether, or allow it to be grown and sold in predefined areas. Bylaw amendments, unlike prohibition, do not require a favorable vote at town election.

Now, with prohibition off the table altogether, the zoning amendment the Planning Board passed Monday is the only marijuana regulation question that voters will take up at Town Meeting.

A few hours after Friday’s meeting, Komosa said in a phone interview, “marijuana (prohibition) is not the issue for me. The issue for me is why the other two selectmen don’t want the people to vote on this.”

Since the 2016 state election, Komosa said he’s spoken to local residents who have changed their mind on the issue. Because of that, he’d like the community to decide once and for all, locally, whether or not they want pot to be sold in their town.

“I thought it was a pretty important thing, to let the community vote … The way I feel about it is that we need what’s best for the town,” Komosa said. “It’s not that I’m against pot. I’m just trying to do what’s best for the people.”

Under the marijuana zoning regulations which will be on the warrant, if it’s approved, marijuana could be cultivated and sold in areas zoned commercial or industrial. In addition, marijuana could be cultivated with a special permit on at least 5 acres of land zoned residential or agricultural.

Notably, Komosa was the only Planning Board member at Monday’s meeting to recommend both amendments. The board respectively voted 4-2 to recommend prohibition, which is no longer on the table, and 3-3 for the bylaw regulations, which will go to vote at Town Meeting.

Deerfield’s annual Town Meeting is scheduled this year for Monday, April 30, starting at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Frontier Regional School on North Main Street, just outside of the village center. The election will take place a few weeks later on May 7 in the Conway Street municipal office building. The last day to register to vote is April 10.

The election ballot and the Town Meeting warrant, closed at Friday’s Selectboard meeting, will be posted soon at: https://bit.ly/2IigXAq

You can reach Andy Castillo at: acastillo@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo


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