MA: West Springfield Holding Hearings On Whether To Ban Commercial Marijuana

Photo Credit: The Republican

The Town Council has continued a public hearing on recreational marijuana to June 4, when citizens will have another opportunity to weigh in on whether to prohibit commercial pot facilities in town. The ban would not affect medical marijuana facilities.

Several residents voiced their opposition to recreational weed at the Town Council’s first public hearing on the issue Monday night.

The economic benefits from the commercial sale of marijuana to adults — a legal product in Massachusetts that will soon be sold and regulated like alcohol or tobacco — outweigh any argument to preclude retail or other recreational facilities from operating in town, according to Mayor William C. Reichelt, who believes West Side should benefit from the legalization of recreational pot. A town moratorium on recreational facilities is in effect through December.

“It makes no sense for us to outlaw it and lose the huge financial opportunities,” Reichelt told The Republican earlier this month. “We either get on board and make money or get left behind.”

Residents who spoke at Monday’s public hearing were not of the same mind, however.

“The medical community has published report after report of marijuana use in adolescence increasing incidence of psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar (disorder) and suicide,” Lisa Barnes, a mother and member of West Springfield’s anti-drug CARE Coalition, told councilors at the hearing.

“South Hadley, Ludlow, Southwick, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Wilbraham and Hampden have all banned retail sales,” Barnes said. “Think about those towns as you make this decision. What comes to mind? Good school systems, nice homes, nice places to go out for dinner, family-friendly communities. Don’t we want West Springfield to be synonymous with those communities, rather than Springfield and Holyoke?”

Chet Zymroz, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, testified that the town should never put revenues before principles.

“This is not about tax revenue. This is not about money. This community supports the CARE Coalition. There’s a reason for that,” he said, urging the council to “continue the prohibition.”

John Weiss, a member of the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, always supports “every type of business” in West Side, he said. “But sometimes money isn’t the most important thing.”

West Springfield’s revenue from new growth last year was over a million dollars, according to Weiss, who estimates the town would only receive around $250,000 from the 3 percent local tax on commercial pot facilities.

“Let’s use the community that we’ve developed, businesses that we bring in, the families that we bring in, and continue our new growth,” said Weiss. “We don’t need to bring in recreational marijuana sales. It’s not worth a quarter of a million dollars.”

Dean Martelli, a vocal critic of allowing retail weed facilities in town, said today’s marijuana is far more potent than the marijuana of yesteryear.

“The THC is off the chart now,” he said, referring to the primary psychoactive agent in the cannabis plant.

“The town had one opportunity to speak on it, and they spoke that they don’t like recreational marijuana,” Martelli said. “So I’m hoping when you make your decisions, you’re thinking about the town and not the special interests.”

Martelli was referring to the 2016 state ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, with a majority of commonwealth municipalities supporting the measure. In West Springfield, however, residents voted 6,339 to 5,813 against legalization.