Those attending Tuesday’s public hearing held by the Planning Board were overwhelmingly in support of hosting marijuana facilities in town, though the hearing aimed at soliciting questions focused more on public opinion.
Nearly 20 people visited Ralph C. Mahar Regional School for the hearing regarding three special town meeting articles pertaining to the regulation of medical-use and recreational-use marijuana establishments — including facilities for cultivation, processing, testing, product manufacturing and retail sale. Some of those who spoke offered their opinions on the marijuana issue and Mercedes Clingerman, Planning Board chairwoman, worked to keep the meeting on task by writing down people’s questions when she heard them and promising to address them as best she could at the end of the meeting.
Clingerman said all agricultural questions and concerns raised previously were taken into consideration when the three marijuana-related articles were added to the warrant for the special town meeting slated for Jan. 25. She also said the article pertaining to the creation of a marijuana overlay bylaw will address any traffic concerns and the article about a potential moratorium on marijuana treatment centers and recreational marijuana retail establishments is there to give townspeople the option of nipping the local cannabis industry in the bud.
Clingerman said though those in attendance were in favor of regulated marijuana, many in town are not. According to information from the town, 1,878 (54.99 percent) Orange voters gave their approval to the 2016 state ballot question concerning legalization, while 1,456 (42.63 percent) voted against the measure. Clingerman said this is a close margin.
She also said hosting marijuana establishments will not dissuade businesses from moving to Orange.
Andrea Benjamin, who works with Ed O’Brien at O’Brien Farm at 505 Holtshire Road, put together a presentation and gave copies of it to each member of the Planning Board. She asked members to endorse an amendment on the floor on Jan. 25 to include language that would allow any areas outside the proposed Marijuana Overlay District to obtain special permits for marijuana cultivation or growth.
Benjamin said she and O’Brien milk 45 cows on a dairy farm. She and O’Brien said they would not be able to grow marijuana on their farm if one of the warrant articles — which limits growing to an industrial park — is not amended.
“We have to diversify if we want to keep our cows,” O’Brien said, adding that he and Benjamin cannot afford to move into the industrial park, and they do not want to.
Maile Shoul, who said she works at an addiction treatment center, addressed the board and cited a Reuters article about a study indicating legalized marijuana could help curb the opioid epidemic.
Steve Drury, who lives in Templeton, said he has been an activist for marijuana for 25 years and he is glad the state is taking the steps it is. He said the entire country will legalize it eventually.
“Mr. Sessions is not going to win,” he said, referring to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has vowed to crack down on legalization.