As Marijuana Stores Open Elsewhere, Springfield Moves Slowly On Permitting Pot Shops
While new recreational marijuana stores continue to open across Massachusetts, it is likely to be months before the first cannabis shop opens in the largest city in western Massachusetts.
The city of Springfield has yet to process a single application for a prospective marijuana business. It is not for lack of interest. At least seven proposed locations for marijuana stores in the city have been publicized in legal notices for community meetings.
Springfield is expected to be a hot market for legal pot sales given that every suburban town surrounding the city has enacted moratoriums on marijuana businesses.
City Councilor Adam Gomez said weeks ago that city residents, who voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana in the 2016 statewide referendum, were growing impatient.
"People in the community would like these stores to open," said Gomez. "They actually question if they are ever going to open."
Before a marijuana shop can open in Springfield, the owner must secure a host community agreement from the city administration and a special permit approved by the city council.
The City Council’s Committee on Marijuana Regulations will make recommendations to the full council about the siting of marijuana businesses. The committee is scheduled to meet Monday January 14 to begin developing a “fair and transparent” decision-making process, according to a statement from newly appointed committee chairman Councilor Mike Fenton.
City Council President Justin Hurst, who was the previous chairman of the marijuana regulations committee, said the city is right to move cautiously with the new marijuana industry.
"At the end of the day we want to make sure we are protecting everybody," said Hurst. "It is not just about the new business that is coming in and the new revenue, but you have to take care of the citizens who are going to benefit ultimately, but still have to live with these dispensaries in the city of Springfield."
Last year, the City Council approved a zoning ordinance that capped the number of recreational marijuana stores at 15. The businesses are allowed in retail, commercial, and industrial zones and only on 58 designated streets.
Although not a single marijuana store has opened, Mayor Domenic Sarno and city councilors have struck a deal on how to spend some of the tax money that will be collected from legal pot sales.
A third of the money raised by the 3 percent local tax on every sale will go into a fund that will be spent in neighborhoods within a 1.5-mile radius of each marijuana store.
Councilor Melvin Edwards, who was one of the proponents of creating the Impacted Neighborhood Stabilization Fund, said it will allow city residents to realize a direct benefit from the new marijuana industry.
" Unfortunately, there has never been enough money for the city to pave every sidewalk and road that needs to be done, so what has fallen off are things like community music access for kids in low-income neighborhoods," said Edwards.
In addition to the local sales tax, the city could also collect a fee from each marijuana business of up to 3 percent of gross annual revenue.