It has been a slow rollout to the legal marijuana business in Massachusetts. It will likely be many months before people can legally purchase pot in the largest city in western Massachusetts.
During a series of special meetings scheduled this week, Springfield City Councilors will try to write the rules governing marijuana retailers, cultivators, and processors who may want to operate in the city.
The key decisions to be made include: In what areas of the city will which types of marijuana businesses be allowed? How big a buffer zone will be required between pot shops and schools, or residences? Will there be a cap on the number of marijuana retailers? What about the proximity of one pot business to another?
City Council President Orlando Ramos said the goal is to sort everything out and take a final vote on the adult-use marijuana rules on September 25th.
"If all goes as planned, there will not be a need to extend the moratorium that is in place," said Ramos.
Earlier this year, the council approved a moratorium on marijuana businesses in Springfield which expires at the end of September. The suburban towns around Springfield have all banned pot stores.
Retail marijuana stores had been expected to begin opening in Massachusetts on July 1st, but none have so far. The Cannabis Control Commission has approved several provisional licenses, and took a key step last week by authorizing two independent testing labs to open.
The Holyoke City Council has approved special permits for three retail marijuana businesses. The city of Chicopee is reviewing five applications to open pot shops.
Ramos said he does not believe Springfield is lagging behind when it comes to allowing adults to legally purchase marijuana.
" Not at all. I think we are right on track," said Ramos. " It is a little more complex when you are talking about a city this size."
Earlier this month, Ramos announced the creation of a Committee on Marijuana regulations. Its three members, along with Ramos, took a fact-finding trip to Colorado to learn about the implementation of legal marijuana businesses there.
Councilor Justin Hurst, who chairs the new committee, said, if done right, the marijuana industry could be a big source of revenue for the city.
" You can either embrace recreational marijuana or be very conservative when it comes to implementaion," said Hurst. " When we looked at Denver, one of the things they did well was to embrace recreational marijauana and I hope we do the same thing here."
Under the state’s voter-approved adult-use marijuana law, municipalities can collect a tax up to 3 percent on marijuana sales. In addition, there can be a 3 percent fee in host community agreements with marijuana retailers to cover costs such as extra police protection.
The state’s cannabis regulators have cited “anecdotal” evidence that some municipalities have made excessive financial demands on companies that want to open marijuana businesses and said this is further delaying the already slow rollout of legal marijuana.