Expert to help towns navigate new pot law

Session in Lenox will offer guidance for municipal laws

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshires leaders have questions about recreational marijuana. A municipal law expert will soon try to provide answers.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is sponsoring a teach-in Jan. 26 on how communities can move to shape local rules on marijuana growing, processing and sales.

Voters on Nov. 8 approved a ballot measure to allow marijuana use and to regulate it as the state does alcohol. While possession of marijuana and growing a limited number of plants became legal Dec. 15 for those age 21 and over, sales will not be allowed until mid-2018, based on recent legislative action.

Thomas Matuszko, assistant director of the commission, said representatives of many Berkshire County towns asked his organization to provide advice on how they can guide new commercial activity related to legal marijuana.

J. Raymond Miyares, a partner with a Wellesley law firm specializing in municipal law, will offer that guidance in the Jan. 26 session at the Lenox Town Hall Auditorium at 6 Walker St. The meeting runs from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public.

"We're not taking a position on this one way or the other," Matuszko said. "We want to learn more about this, too. I hope it turns into something of a dialogue."

The law allows communities to seek to prohibit the sale of marijuana, but only under prescribed rules.

Matuszko said that Miyares, of the firm Miyares and Harrington LLP, will explain the 25-page law in laymen's terms, then take questions related to zoning, permitting and the possibility of instituting a moratorium on sales.

"We want to know what their concerns are and how they can address those," Matuszko said of participants.

Issues likely to arise include the prospect of new taxes and municipal revenue related to marijuana sales. Cities and towns have the option of adding a 2 percent tax to marijuana sales, on top of the usual sales tax and the 3.75 percent excise tax from the state. Lawmakers may decide to increase the excise tax before sales begin in July 2018.

Under the new law, cities and towns are allowed to set ordinances on where and when a marijuana outlet can operate; set limits on the number in their community; restrict cultivation that is deemed a "public nuisance" and set standards for signs for retail shops and shape sanctions for violations of local bylaws.

Statewide, regulations on recreational marijuana sales will be set by a three-member Cannabis Control Commission overseen by Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg. Its members are expected to be appointed by Sept. 1.

Question 4, which legalized recreational marijuana, passed statewide 54-46.

The snow date for the Lenox workshop is Feb. 2. To check on its status, call 413-442-1521, ext. 15, after 2 p.m. Jan. 26.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214.

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