Pot regulators asks cities and towns to restrain demands
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts cannabis regulators urged city and town officials Thursday to keep within the boundaries of state law when negotiating local agreements with recreational marijuana businesses.
The Cannabis Control Commission cited “anecdotal” evidence of municipalities putting excessive financial demands on companies wishing to locate within their communities, further slowing the already delayed rollout of the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law.
Retail marijuana stores had been expected to begin opening on July 1 in Massachusetts, but none have so far and it could be at least several more weeks before the first ones begin operating.
Under the law, cities and towns may charge pot businesses for reasonably anticipated municipal costs related to such things as increased traffic or police protection. But host community agreements are not allowed to assess fees that exceed 3 percent of the total annual revenues of the business, and not for any longer than five years.
“If municipalities don’t follow that law, they are creating obstacles to the commission’s mission statement, which is to safely, equitably and productively implement the law,” said Shaleen Title, one of five commissioners on the panel. “And we already know that when barriers to entry are too high at the local level we end up with a market that is slow to start up and has a striking lack of diversity.”
Prospective marijuana businesses are required to secure host community agreements before they can apply for a license from the state. Excessive demands from local communities can be particularly harmful to smaller entrepreneurs and minorities trying to get a foothold in the cannabis industry, Title added.
In addition to the maximum 3 percent fee in host community agreements, municipalities under the law can collect taxes of up to 3 percent on recreational marijuana sales.
State Rep. Mark Cusack, of Braintree, and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, of Somerville, Democrats who chair the Legislature’s Marijuana Policy Committee, recently sent a letter to regulators asking them to get tougher on cities and towns that overreach in negotiating host agreements.
The commission, which did not single out any community on Thursday, also questioned the extent of legal authority it had over the agreements.
Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan, a former state senator, defended cities and towns for including additional costs for substance abuse treatment among anticipated costs for allowing a marijuana business to open.
“Instead of hiding our heads in the sand and pretending this doesn’t exist, I really think that part of the conversation with municipalities has to be about the public health aspects of this,” said Flanagan.
The commission, which issued two more provisional retail recreational licenses on Thursday to operators of medical marijuana dispensaries, gave local officials two weeks to respond to the concerns raised at the meeting.