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New England News

Great Barrington Proposes Terms For Marijuana Businesses

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The meeting Monday night in Great Barrington's town hall.

Great Barrington, Massachusetts is taking steps to formalize its host agreement for retail marijuana businesses in town.

Monday night, two businesses approached the Great Barrington Selectboard for an update on their applications to open recreational marijuana businesses. They would be the first of their kind in town history. Recreational marijuana sales will begin in Massachusetts July 1.

Selectboard member Ed Abrahams is heading up Great Barrington’s marijuana taskforce.

“The first two steps in the process of getting licensed are going to the town and getting permission — in effect, the host agreement, it’s called — from the town and then holding a public meeting to let people know what’s going on," Abrahams told WAMC. "So Monday night was step one of the first part which is negotiating a host agreement. That’s where the town can say to them, these are the impacts we feel this will have and here’s how you can help us mitigate the impact.”

The state allows localities to tax up to 3 percent of gross marijuana sales for exactly that purpose.

“Things like extra police — we have to train the police in how to spot people driving while high," said Abrahams. "We can use it for drug education, recreation. Really the fear is the things we haven’t thought of.”

Abrahams says that the 90-day permitting process will give the town time to consider those unknowns. The required impact fee presents a contrast with liquor stores in Massachusetts.

“We can’t say to liquor stores give us 3 percent of your sales so we do alcohol education program," he said. "We can’t say we need extra money for police to pull over drunk drivers. So none of that is available with alcohol. There are a lot more restrictions and it’s a lot more expense to the marijuana sellers to deal with the issues coming from marijuana.”

The impact fee isn’t set in stone.

“You know, we may find out at some point that there isn’t a negative community impact to retail marijuana," remarked Abrahams. "And then these agreements will change. We may find out it’s not nearly as lucrative as everyone thinks it will be. At this point, the town gets 6 percent of all sales. The state gets 13 percent. So there’s a sales tax of almost 20 percent on marijuana, plus the extra 3 percent that we just tacked on.”

The two businesses are Theory Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary on Route 7 that plans to offer both medical and recreational sales, and Calyx Berkshire Dispensary, which aims to open a retail pot store in downtown Great Barrington. Brandon Pollock, the CEO of Theory Wellness, addressed the town’s proposed requirement that marijuana businesses hire locally at the meeting Monday.

“With respect to hiring, we do have 20 open jobs listed right now that we’re trying to fill, so we’ll do the best we can for local folks," said Pollock, "but currently we do employ somebody who lives in Hillsdale, someone from Pittsfield. We’ll do the best we can, but we’re not going to fill 20 jobs with Great Barrington people.”

Donna Norman of Calyx Berkshire Dispensary said it was important to bring as many local jobs into the community as possible before turning to another aspect of the host agreement the town is proposing.

“And as far as the charitable donation, it was always our intention to give back to the community and also do workshops on education and various community programs to educate," Norman said to the selectboard, "because really the key of this business is education, educating the consumer, so I’m totally happy with that.”

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