Laurie Loisel: Urges Northampton to seek opinions on pot shops

  • mactrunk

Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Urges Northampton to seek opinions on pot shops

In varying degrees, municipalities around the state are preparing for recreational marijuana sales set to begin July 1.

They are reviewing and amending zoning laws so this new business will be introduced in their communities with forethought, in consideration of all who might be impacted.

Amherst officials had countless meetings with town residents to craft regulations that make sense for that community, capping it at eight retail marijuana establishments. The Easthampton Planning Board met week after week to hammer out how that city’s zoning will change to accommodate the new industry in town — at last count (though this could change), that city was gearing up to allow 12 retail marijuana shops. South Hadley, meanwhile, had a Town Meeting vote on whether to ban retail recreational marijuana.

There’s a wide variety of responses in Hampshire County. What is Northampton, the county seat, doing to prepare? Not a lot, unfortunately. Northampton sees this as a free-market issue — however many pot shops the market can bear is how many our city will get. That doesn’t seem like thoughtful planning.

Northampton is waiting for the state Cannabis Control Commission to release its final regulations governing the new establishments. The  regulations, now widely available in draft form, permit communities to limit pot shops to 20 percent of the number of package stores in a given community. In Northampton, that would mean four retail marijuana stores.

I don’t know how many is an adequate number of pot shops in a city like Northampton — but I do believe it’s a question worth talking about. We need to have these discussions before April 1, when entrepreneurs — the big-box variety and the small-time shopkeeper — start filing applications with the state so they can get ready to open their stores in July.

How many pot shops do you want to see on Main Street in Northampton? Along King Street? In Leeds center? On North Maple Street in Florence? As it stands now, any place in Northampton that permits retail business is a location where a retail marijuana shop can open, with no limit on the number.

Some might say if we don’t limit the number of clothing stores, why should retail marijuana be any different. Retail marijuana is more akin to package stores and tobacco sales than other types of retail, and those businesses have plenty of regulations. The state limits the number of package stores and the ABCC regulates those businesses; our own Board of Health regulates tobacco sales.

The Cannabis Control Commission is fine-tuning retail marijuana regulations and there’s still time for people to weigh in before the commission issues its final document in March. Prior to that, the commission is holding listening sessions around the state, including one at Holyoke Community College from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 5.

But local communities have some controls. The Cannabis Control Commission is not placing limits on the number of pot shops a community can have or where they can go — that’s left to municipalities, which can create regulations that do both. At the very least, those matters are worth robust local debate.

Northampton officials should be offering public information meetings and hosting formal listening sessions to find out what city residents want and then take action to make that happen.

Laurie Loisel