With pot legal, what will Franklin County towns do?

  • Recorder/Paul FranzGreenfield police chief Robert Haigh Jr.



For the Gazette
Published: 11/13/2016 9:04:15 PM

GREENFIELD — After close to a century of prohibition, voters opted to legalize the possession, cultivation, use and sale of marijuana for adults during Tuesday’s elections. Now, local government and law enforcement officials face the task of ensuring it’s introduced and handled safely.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said Thursday that the state Legislature could start working on specific issues related to the new law as soon as January, when the new session begins, and state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who will appoint the three-member Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the industry, has asked for the state to extend the deadline schedule in the law, saying there would need to be more time to set up the regulatory infrastructure.

In the Pioneer Valley, Greenfield Mayor William Martin said he doesn’t expect the new law to roll out very quickly, citing the issues that the state ran into when trying to implement 2012’s legalization of medical marijuana, but local leaders will certainly have work to do in the meantime to prepare.

Martin said he’d soon suggest to the Town Council that it consider a moratorium, similar to the ban many towns put in place when medical marijuana was legalized, or revisit the town’s zoning regulations and ordinances that govern medical marijuana dispensaries to ensure they have something to say on recreational pot establishments. If they’re silent, he said, there’s less local control over where they can be and how they can operate.

Martin said the town would need to look at the option for levying a 2 percent local tax on top of the 10 percent state tax the law will impose. “There’s a local option, but that’s too little,” he said. “It pales in comparison to the tax on gasoline or cigarettes, so we’ll see what the state will allow.”

Massachusetts’ tax rate for recreational marijuana will be much lower than those seen in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana’s been legal since 2012 and taxes are as high as 20 to 50 percent.

A national marijuana tax expert told The Recorder last month that lower tax rates help undercut black markets while too-high taxes may encourage tax evasion, but local officials worry whether the revenue will cover the costs of regulating the fledgling marijuana industry.

Still, proponents expect the state to rake in about $100 million a year in revenue from marijuana sales.

Martin said the town will also need to look at regulations around how marijuana or marijuana-infused products, like the edible pot treats that have become the fastest growing portion of Colorado’s legal marijuana industry, can be properly marketed safely.

“We need some time to review how we set that up,” he said. In Colorado, laws have been passed to require a universal system indicating the presence of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in food items. It’s printed on packaging and sometimes stamped onto the product itself.

Rosenberg said Thursday that lawmakers could consider whether to allow the edibles in Massachusetts at all.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh agreed there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the law will be implemented, but said his main concern on the enforcement side of things is making sure that the area’s younger residents can’t get their hands on the stuff, especially edibles, which have become extremely popular in states where marijuana has been legal for a few years.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know a whole lot, and we still need to figure out a way to regulate it all,” Haigh said. “Just because (the state) voted ‘Yes’ now doesn’t mean we have a clue about what to do with regulation. There’s going to be a good amount of facilities that will be allowed to sell edibles, and that’s more my concern — the access, for younger people to have access to that. It’s just one more thing I wish kids didn’t have, but there’s not much of choice with it now.”

In neighboring Montague, Select Board Chairman Richard Kuklewicz said he hasn’t studied the bill closely, but plans to get it on the board’s agenda quickly to start looking into implementation and regulation now that it has passed.

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