Northampton eyes tax on marijuana sales, zoning rules

  • This May 2016 file photo shows marijuana plants in the early stages of growth. Concord Monitor

Published: 1/31/2018 11:56:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — With a recommendation that the city take advantage of the revenue option, Mayor David Narkewicz will propose a 3 percent tax on recreational marijuana when shops open later this year.

Narkewicz is bringing the idea to the City Council Thursday night as part of a package of bills that would govern local oversight of the recreational marijuana industry, which is expected to launch throughout the state this summer.

“This is a new industry,” Narkewicz said.

Four of the five proposed ordinances deal with zoning for recreational marijuana businesses, while the financial order would have the city exercise its option under state law to impose the 3 percent tax on sales.

On the tax, Narkewicz said that the city has difficulty finding sources of revenue outside of the property tax.

“I believe the city should avail itself (of revenue from marijuana),” he said.

He noted that other communities, including Amherst, have already exercised the option to impose the 3 percent local tax, the maximum allowed under state law. Narkewicz also said he would be surprised if any communities planning for marijuana would not take the option of taxing to the full amount, and that he hadn’t heard any complaints about it from those in the industry.

Recreational marijuana businesses will be able to apply for licenses on April 1 in Massachusetts. Those businesses approved will be able to start selling and growing recreational marijuana on July 1.

Zone changes

The zoning proposals would update current regulations on medical marijuana to accommodate recreational marijuana. Narkewicz noted that a major difference between the two is that medical marijuana in Massachusetts has to be grown, processed and distributed by the same entity, while recreational marijuana businesses can choose to be involved in production or retail, or both.

Narkewicz said recreational marijuana sales under the proposed zoning would be allowed in the city’s retail districts, with a 200-foot buffer from schools. The same rules already apply for medical marijuana establishments. An exception is being carved out for nonconforming retail establishments, which Narkewicz said would not be allowed to be converted into marijuana businesses under the proposed zoning.

The ordinances also ask that establishments conform to the character of the areas in which they are zoned, and that security around outdoor cultivation, such as razor wire, be concealed with vegetation so that it is not visible from the public way.

Outdoor commercial growing is also authorized by site-plan approval in agricultural zones.

Marijuana production, which includes indoor cultivation, testing and processing, would be allowed in manufacturing and industrial areas, the same as for medical marijuana in Northampton.

“We’re trying to integrate these into our existing zoning,” he said.

Narkewicz is not proposing a cap on marijuana establishments at this time, although he said the council could choose to do so.

Amherst has already approved a cap on the number of establishments, and Easthampton is considering imposing one.

“It’s a legal business,” Narkewicz said, noting that it is also heavily regulated by the state. “I’m trying to treat it like that.”

Question 4, which sought to legalize recreational marijuana in the commonwealth, passed in 2016. However, marijuana is still an illegal substance under federal law.

Medical marijuana establishments will receive priority when applying for recreational marijuana licenses. New England Treatment Access, which has a medical dispensary in Northampton, has already announced its intention to apply for a recreational license.

City Council President Ryan O’Donnell said he expects to have the mayor’s ordinances sent to committee, so people will be able to comment on them. City Council will meet at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers in the Puchalski Municipal Building at 212 Main St.

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