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No Weed Farming in Westport

May 8, 2019

Town Meeting voters in Westport have said no to marijuana farming, despite an effort by the Craft Cannabis Co-Op Committee appointed by the town’s board of selectmen.

The zoning bylaw change would have allowed growing and manufacturing marijuana and selling it to a wholesale retailer elsewhere in Massachusetts, but no retail sales within the town.

Supporters said a pilot program targeting 5 acres might eventually have led to as many as four marijuana farms that would provide a significant boost in local property tax revenue for the town.

Opponents doubted the benefits, suggesting that cross-pollination might hurt other crops in town and that the odor from marijuana might cause health problems, according to the Fall River Herald News.

The news story describes the remarks of two speakers who supported the measure, but none from individual opponents.

“It is about time we stepped up and took the lead on something positive,” one supporter said, according to the Fall River Herald News.

Westport voters in November 2016 voted in favor of a statewide referendum legalizing recreational marijuana, 53 to 47 percent.

In May 2018, voters at Town Meeting in Westport voted to prohibit recreational marijuana stores in town, 118-82, according to the Fall River Herald News.

In October 2018 the town’s board of selectmen voted to create the Craft Cannabis Co-Op Committee.

But last month selectmen voted 4-1 to recommend against changing the town’s zoning bylaws to allow marijuana farming.

Selectman Shana Shufelt, board chairman, said during a board meeting April 16 that she’s concerned that a marijuana farm could end up within 300 yards of a home.

“No neighbors will want that in their back yard,” Shufelt said.

The board’s lone supporter, Selectman Brian Valcourt, said marijuana operations would be blocked from view by a barrier, and that allowing marijuana growing would help save farms.

“All this would be doing is allowing them to participate in that market, and possibly subsidize the other activities that are going on in their farm,” Valcourt said during the selectmen’s meeting April 16.

Valcourt is also a member of the town’s Craft Cannabis Co-Op Committee. During a meeting of that committee April 25, he said he expected a fair vote at Town Meeting, based on the facts.

“I honestly feel that the truth can sway people, if you just tell them what the truth actually is. You know? If you don’t lie to people, they tend to, and they look at it for, you know, the reality of what it actually is, they generally, if it’s not a terrible thing, you know, not a terribly bad thing, they’re going to support it, if they feel like this could be a benefit,” Valcourt said.

The news story in today’s Fall River Herald News doesn’t report the vote tally on marijuana farming at this year’s Town Meeting, which took place Tuesday, May 7.

Westport is a town of about 15,000 people on the South Coast of Massachusetts, southeast of Fall River, which it borders. It also borders on Rhode Island.

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