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Pittsfield Councilors Reject Putting Marijuana Ban on Ballot
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
03:52AM / Tuesday, August 22, 2017
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The Ordinance and Rules Committee filed the petition.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City officials say the vote on recreational marijuana has already been taken and it doesn't need to go before voters again.
 
The City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee rejected on Monday a petition from local attorney William Barry requesting a ban on recreational marijuana establishments.
 
The petition went to the subcommittee level and on Monday, the Ordinance and Rules Committee unanimously voted to file the petition and directed Barry toward the citizen's petition process if he wants to pursue a vote further.
 
"The voters of Pittsfield already weighed in on this and it was 58 percent in favor of having recreational marijuana legalized," Councilor at Large Peter White said.
 
Barry had put forth a petition to ban retail shops through either zoning or other ordinances. However, that was prior to the state Legislature's passage of a reworked version of the law that requires such a measure go before a citywide vote if a community had previously passed it.
 
In Pittsfield, the vote was 58.4 percent to approve sales of recreational marijuana.
 
The exact process of getting it onto a ballot as a question needs some review of the new law. But the city councilors on the committee made it clear that they don't want the city taking a role in putting forth a referendum.
 
"I think it is a little underhanded to ask this body to submit a referendum for something that did pass on a citywide level by a fairly significant margin. Our charter allows for a citizen's petition," Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said.
 
Not only had voters approved it, the election saw near record-high numbers of ballots cast. The next election isn't anticipated to generate that level of participation again, and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol is concerned that it would open the door for opponents to sneak an unpopular law through.
 
"We had a very significant turnout on that vote for Question 4. I hope the turn out is great this year but with all likelihood it isn't going to be anywhere near where it was last year, which means there is an opportunity for the opponents who are more motivated on something to tip the scales and get it turned down. I don't think that is appropriate. We had a full campaign, we had the messages from everywhere from those in favor, those against, people thought it through and it ultimately did pass," Krol said. 
 
City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said the process for a city or town to ban such sales is still somewhat of a moving target. He expects challenges to the state's compromise, which allows towns that voted for it to approve bans through elected leaders and those who opposed it needing a ballot. He also said it isn't clear if towns are able to, and the process of, voting on such a thing at a town meeting.
 
Dohoney said the city does have the citizen's petition method in the charter. He'd have to look closer at the bill and the state's process for other methods to put a ban to a vote. He said he spoke with Barry about the "procedural" issues and isn't sure if Barry plans to follow through with the referendum process.
 
But, he's not getting much help from the City Council.
 
"I'm not interested in putting this back on the ballot. The voters have spoken," White said.
 
Resident Drew Herzig also spoke at Monday's meeting, opposing such a ban.
 
"Please do not attempt to recriminalize marijuana here in Pittsfield. Prohibition failed. Let's move forward, let's generate income for the city and spend it on city needs," Herzig said.
 
The opening of any such shop in the state is still a year away. Recreational marijuana establishments can start operating in July 2018. But it could be even longer for the Berkshires. Voters approved the rollout of medical marijuana in 2012 and still, five years later, a shop has not opened in the Berkshires.
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