The largest city in western Massachusetts is moving closer to accepting applications from people who want to open recreational marijuana stores.
The Springfield City Council is proposing to set aside 40 percent of the available marijuana store permits for “economic empowerment applicants” and city residents in an effort to give priority status to people who were disproportionately harmed when marijuana was criminalized.
After a series of meetings, the council’s Committee on Marijuana Regulations Monday night finalized recommendations for a step-by-step application process for marijuana businesses looking to open in Springfield.
City Council President Justin Hurst said he will forward the recommendations to the mayor’s office.
" (The recommendations) come from the community and councilors who are huge advocates for the community. We have not created these in isolation and so our hope is the administration will take heed," said Hurst.
The city council last year approved a marijuana zoning ordinance that capped the total number of retail stores at 15. The committee recommended reserving three retail permits for city residents and three for economic empowerment applicants.
" We think it is important," said Hurst of the council's desire to give priority to people who were disproportionately impacted by marijuana when it was illegal.
With a handful of marijuana stores now open – and doing brisk business – in Hampshire and Berkshire counties and with more on the way across the state, Mayor Domenic Sarno said he is anxious to open up Springfield to legal marijuana.
"I wish I could have this done yesterday," said Sarno Monday. He said his administration was working to finalize the application proceedures "ASAP."
Springfield is expected to be a major market for cannabis sales since the suburban towns have all imposed moratoriums on marijuana businesses.
Sarno said he plans a thorough vetting process for any would-be marijuana retailers.
"There are going to be guidelines that have to be followed that will get to who has the wherewithal to do this and who are the pretenders who do not," said Sarno.
John Hanmer of Debilitating Medical Conditions Treatment Centers said his company has laid the groundwork for two recreational marijuana stores in Springfield and is eager for the city to invite applications.
"Without generating revenue it puts pressure on us to try to stay afloat while Springfield figures out what's going on. That's what I get worried about," said Hanmer.
One goal of legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts is to drive away the black market. Last weekend, Springfield police said they halted what was described as a “marijuana vendor party” attended by about 150 people and 30-40 sellers. It was taking place in the same building as the Mardi Gras strip club, prompting Sarno to demand hearings on the club’s liquor and entertainment licenses.
" God forbid if something happened there," said Sarno. "You know what happans at times when you have that type of quantity of marijuana, any type of drugs. Something very negative could have happened there. This was an illegal operation."
Police seized 200 pounds of marijuana and arrested two people for drug distribution. Police said the two people charged were not licensed to sell marijuana by the Cannabis Control Commission.