Northampton considers capping retail pot shops at 10

  • The patient area at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary in Northampton. The city is considering a cap on retail marijuana shops at 10. NETA has said it hopes to sell retail marijuana. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

@BeraDunau
Published: 4/10/2018 8:56:37 PM

NORTHAMPTON — While the city explores capping the number of retail marijuana shops at 10, some of its top elected officials are eager for sales to begin later this year.

“We are very much interested in attracting this vibrant … industry to our town,” said Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell, one of the cap’s sponsors, at the council’s Thursday meeting.

“Our proposed cap is not intended to hinder the growth of a vibrant, local, retail marijuana market,” said Ward 3 Councilor James Nash, the other sponsor.

The 10-store cap would be in line with efforts in Amherst, which instituted a cap of eight retail marijuana establishments last year, and Easthampton, where the council OK’d a cap of six shops.

Heather Warner, of the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth Coalition, spoke in favor of a cap during the public comment period, saying that the city had the opportunity to be thoughtful about the implementation. She also advocated for the implementation of a local licensing process, and noted that this was one of the ways that marijuana is not regulated like alcohol.

“There’s a lot we can reclaim locally,” she said.

Bidwell said he didn’t think more than the proposed cap would make it through the state’s licensing process for retail marijuana establishments. “I frankly don’t think there’ll be more than six or seven or eight, if that,” he said.

He characterized the cap as the “What if we’re wrong?” cap, and said that it was to ensure that the town would not be initially deluged.

“We can always increase the cap,” Bidwell said.

Indeed, Nash characterized the proposed cap as insurance.

“It welcomes … the new industry, but has a surge protector,” he said.

Nash said he was looking forward to the July 1 date when retail recreational marijuana will be available in Massachusetts, saying that it will serve to help rid of stigma around the substance, while also acknowledging that there will be some negative effects.

“While I welcome retail marijuana, I am not naive,” said Nash, who said that the cap will prevent the city from changing faster than it is ready.

Nash said that he was looking forward to hearing his colleagues’ views on the proposal.

“I expect that our dialogue will be informative and educational for all,” he said.

No other councilors weighed in with opinions before sending the proposal to the council’s legislative matters committee. Referrals to committee are typically unanimous by the Northampton City Council, even on contentious issues.

Northampton also passed a local option for a 3 percent tax on recreational marijuana sales, the maximum allowed under state law, on second reading Thursday.

Mayor David Narkewicz said that he had not yet formed an opinion on the proposed cap, saying he wanted to know the public policy rationale for the both the cap and the cap number. However, he did note that he had not included a cap in the zoning ordinances on marijuana that he recently put forward. The council approved those ordinances last month.

“If in fact they pass something and send it to me I’ll have to evaluate it,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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