Amherst eyes local options on recreational marijuana

  • Citrix cannabis buds, one of four flowering strains offered at New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Staff Writer
Thursday, August 03, 2017

AMHERST — Amherst officials are considering bringing a series of recreational marijuana-related measures to fall Town Meeting, including adopting a local option sales tax and zoning to better control how shops are permitted.

Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz said on July 26 that municipal staff are mulling options after recent revisions by the state Legislature to the voter-approved law that legalized recreational marijuana.

Many of the changes advocated by Amherst were incorporated into the revisions by legislators, including the local option tax up to 3 percent, and providing a level playing field for those who have already pursued medical marijuana.

“One of the things we were concerned about was the head start given to medical marijuana treatment centers,” Kravitz said.

Other changes include increasing the size and representation of the Cannabis Control Commission and Cannabis Advisory Board, improving health and safety regulations, encouraging local agriculture to participate in the recreational marijuana industry, and mandating host community agreements.

“At least now we know what the law is and moving forward from here, we don’t have uncertainty,” Kravitz said.

But Kravitz said the final regulations from the Cannabis Control Commission will not be out until March, just weeks before applications are due in April. Licenses will be issued to successful applicants beginning June 1, and sales would begin July 1.

This means it might be wise for Town Meeting to be asked to enact a temporary moratorium and some type of cap on how many recreational pot shops could open in Amherst, Kravitz said.

In a statement, Select Board member Connie Kruger said she views the legislative changes, which still respect the will of voters, as positive, and thanked Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose for their work.

“There are many different viewpoints about how recreational marijuana should be regulated and crafting a compromise proved to be a challenge, but we appreciate the improvements the Legislature has made to the law,” Kruger said.

These improvements include the increase from 2 to 3 percent for the sales tax option, more representation on bodies responsible for marijuana regulations and policy-setting, and host community agreements that ensure all parties understand their rights and responsibilities .

“We intend to stay vigilant and will work with the Cannabis Control Commission to draft regulations that will clearly define the municipality’s role in the licensing process, protect the health and safety of residents, and encourage participation by farmers in the cultivation of marijuana,” Kruger said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.