MA: Bernardston Fine-Tunes Its Marijuana Policy

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All the talk at annual Town Meeting about banning recreational marijuana sales may have overshadowed the relatively minor changes to the town’s marijuana policies that voters chose to adopt, even as the larger ban failed to pass.

Of the three changes that were approved, the zoning bylaw against selling marijuana in the central village will probably be the one to have the most obvious effect in town. Marijuana sales will be limited to the “expedited permitting district” and the “business district,” which together comprise the area on the south side of Route 10 from where the Kringle Candle factory is (east of River Street) to the area where the medical marijuana growing facility is (east of Merrifield Road), plus the area farther down Route 10 toward Northfield between Turners Falls Road and Deacon Parker Road (where Chubby’s Sauce is). Police Chief Jim Palmeri noted that even in those districts, marijuana will only be sold in stores specifically intended for selling it, not in convenience stores or others that might offer it as one product among others.

Voters also approved a bylaw regarding the use of marijuana in public places. Under the state’s laws, marijuana cannot be used in public places or where tobacco is prohibited. In motor vehicles, marijuana is subject to the same “open container” laws as alcohol — that is, it can’t be used while driving, and any container not factory-sealed must be in the trunk or in a locked glove box. It is also illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana.

The purpose of Bernardston’s new bylaw is to include in those restrictions any methods for using marijuana other than smoking it. The bylaw is “not so much a restriction,” Palmeri said, “but more of an explanation of what consumption of marijuana, I feel, is.

“Most people might just be thinking no smoking a joint in public. No, there’s no consumption whatsoever,” Palmeri said. “I think there’s going to be more ways coming out there than just rolling and smoking it like people did in the ’60s.”

The bylaw does not apply to medical marijuana. Medical marijuana cannot be smoked in any place where smoking is prohibited, but other methods of using medical marijuana will not be regulated.

In addition to Bernardston’s bylaw, Massachusetts’s normal laws on marijuana still apply. Marijuana can only be used by people over 21; a person may carry up to 1 ounce at a time, with no more than 5 grams of that in concentrate form; up to 10 ounces may be stored at home, but any amount over 1 ounce must be in a locked container; a person may grow as many as six plants and households of more than one person may have as many as 12 plants.

Voters at the annual Town Meeting also approved a 3 percent tax on marijuana sales.