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Plans on hold, communities flounder as retail marijuana sales rollout drags on

  • Propagation manager Janel Cannonier trims cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27, 2018 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Propagation manager Janel Cannonier trims cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27, 2018 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Incense Haze X Chem cannabis flower is displayed June 27, 2018 at the INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cannabis grows June 27, 2018 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lead cultivator Matt Livermore bottoms cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Propagation manager Janel Cannonier trims cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The interior of INSA dispensary is shown Wednesday in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Propagation manager Janel Cannonier trims cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27, 2018 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Propagation manager Janel Cannonier trims cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27, 2018 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Propagation manager Janel Cannonier trims cannabis plants to direct the growth hormones to budding sites June 27, 2018 at INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Master Kush indica flowers and a variety of marijuana-infused products including Dose chocolate bars and nugget, Wishing Well tinctures and Upside capsules are displayed June 27 at New England Treatment Access, or NETA, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A variety of marijuana-infused products are shown June 27, 2018 at New England Treatment Access, or NETA, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Master Kush indica flowers, center, and a variety of marijuana-infused products including Dose chocolate bars and nugget, Wishing Well tinctures and Upside capsules are displayed June 27, 2018 at New England Treatment Access, or NETA, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The exterior of New England Treatment Access, or NETA, is shown Wednesday in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writers
Thursday, July 05, 2018

AMHERST — Jack G. Carney has plans to open shops selling marijuana for recreational use in Northampton, Amherst and Pittsfield, but is navigating uneven regulatory terrain from one town to the next.

While communities have been preparing for months to accommodate the law that allows cannabis sales for recreational use, there is a wide range of where they stand. Some have instituted moratoriums, others are working on zoning bylaws, and some are ready.

For example, in Carney’s case, while his Seattle-born company, Green Biz LLC, can apply for a state license after getting local approvals in Pittsfield and Northampton, he has hit a roadblock in Amherst.

He is eyeing 37-39 Boltwood Walk, a former yoga studio and juice bar in Amherst that meets local zoning regulations, but can’t move forward because the town has yet to develop a licensing process.

He said town officials have told him they are not making any host community agreements for recreational marijuana sales — a state requirement — until that process is in place. The Amherst Select Board, Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz began discussing how to do that just this week.

“Currently, they are only letting medical licensees transition into retail sales,” Carney said.

Amherst is probably a few months away from having any recreational-use marijuana available, Kravitz said, even though the only restrictions adopted by Town Meeting are to allow only eight shops and limiting their proximity to homes and schools. A 3 percent tax on the product is in place.

RISE, the only medical marijuana dispensary in town, which recently opened in an old auction barn near the North Amherst village center, has held the community outreach meeting that is required by the state to begin recreational-use sales, but still needs to amend its host community agreement, which offers terms for how the town will be compensated by the businesses.

In addition to retailers, cultivators may have an interest in Amherst, Kravitz said.

“The challenge we’re faced with right now is a lot of farmland is excluded from cultivating” marijuana, he said, because it is protected under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction, a program that is funded in part by federal money.

Northampton is ready

Northampton is further ahead. In March, the City Council approved a 3 percent tax on cannabis purchased for recreational use and bylaws that include a 200-foot buffer from schools and limits on where marijuana shops can be located. The regulations allow outdoor cultivation in office industrial or general industrial zoning districts, with site plan and community approval.

Two brothers looking to open a marijuana growing operation on Kennedy Road in Leeds were told in April that their proposed year-round greenhouse operation did not meet zoning requirements.

Northampton Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck said special permits are not required for retail cannabis sales in most business districts throughout the city. A marijuana store can proceed much the same way as any other retail outlet.

Northampton has negotiated five community host agreements with recreational marijuana businesses, which now must get site plan approval from the city and licenses from the state. The businesses with community host agreements are: Pioneer Valley Extracts, Hampshire Hemp, Bodelles Edibles, Green Biz LLC dispensary and NETA dispensary.

Carney said he wants to open a shop in Northampton “near downtown” but declined to specify where or whether he has a lease in preparation for seeking site plan approval and a state license.

He said he plans to carry a “variety of everything, with multiple price points.” But supplies may be limited at first because growers will start to receive licenses around the same time stores do and will need time to grow their product. Medical dispensaries, which already have functioning cultivation operations, are at an advantage, he noted, as they are ready to transition to the recreational market.

It’s “a waiting game” for now, Carney said. His focus is on staying organized and communicating with the cities and towns where his company hopes to open stores.

Varied approaches

Some towns have imposed moratoriums and the wait in those communities may become even longer due to a recent ruling by Attorney General Maura Healey that allows local officials to extend the moratoriums without polling residents.

In Hadley, a moratorium adopted by Town Meeting means that no recreational-use marijuana will be available in that town until Dec. 1, at the earliest.

“We were approached several times in the lead up to annual Town Meeting by a number of people who have expressed interest,” Town Administrator David Nixon said.

During the moratorium the Board of Health will develop regulations, the Planning Board will create the zoning and the town will have a permitting process in place that will include review by the building inspector.

Town Meeting may be asked to approve zoning Oct. 18, Nixon said. “We’re doing it in a thoughtful and coordinated way.”

Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer said the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is working on a prototype zoning bylaw, as is town attorney KP Law, both of which Hadley may be able to use.

Granby also has a moratorium until Dec. 1 while an ad hoc committee examines the topic.

Granby Police Chief Alan Wishart, who is part of the committee, said the town is considering three options, including doing nothing, adopting regulations and prohibition, which would require bringing the issue to voters.

Neighboring South Hadley approved a prohibition at Town Meeting and a subsequent ballot vote.

In other towns, like Hatfield, there is no moratorium but related zoning bylaws are being reviewed by the attorney general’s office, a process Town Clerk Lydia Szych said she is not expecting to be completed until Sept.5.

Planning Board Chairman Bob Wagner said that one group approached his board about establishing a product manufacturing plant, but will have to wait until zoning bylaws are in place.

Pelham has no restrictions on marijuana, but David Waskiewicz, the town’s building inspector, said he is unaware of anyone who has approached the community to open a store.

Leverett Planning Board Chairman Kenneth Kahn said officials aren’t feeling any pressure to adopt marijuana bylaws because there is little commercial or industrial land available where a retail enterprise or manufacturing and cultivation facility would be able to locate.

One medical marijuana dispensary in Hadley has been approved, at an old Sunoco gas station on Route 9 near the Amherst town line. It has a building permit and signed a host community agreement but will need an amendment if it intends to do recreational sales, as well, Dwyer said.

Plans stymied

Other potential cannabis ventures have run into snags, even in Easthampton which approved zoning bylaws in March. The city also established a 3 percent tax for recreational-use cannabis, capped the number of retail licenses in the city at six and left open the possibility of private membership cannabis cafes or other on-site consumption establishments if allowed by state law.

The bylaws contain regulations around signs, odor, visual impact, security and nuisance conditions for cannabis stores and also require a 200-foot buffer between cannabis retailers, except in the mill industrial zone. There is also a 350-foot buffer around schools where no retail establishment can be located.

The City Council is also considering a resolution to set aside a significant amount of the revenue it receives from recreational marijuana for tax relief for a new $109 million consolidated school that the city voted for in May.

Karima Rizk of Easthampton has been working for the last few months on opening a cannabis cafe for social consumption and offering coffee infused with CBD, a cannabis compound that doesn’t have psychotropic effects.

In March, she called Easthampton’s bylaws historic and one of the most progressive cannabis ordinances in the state.

However, Rizk announced recently that the cost of holding a lease for the proposed cafe in light of uncertainly about the state licensing for social cannabis consumption has put her plans in jeopardy.

“We are hitting the ‘pause button’ on Café Vert’s immediate plans to proceed with licensing and permitting,” Rizk wrote in an email. “Despite our best, intensive efforts, we have been unsuccessful in raising the required capital to move forward at this time.”

Rizk said she is “restrategizing” to create a successful fundraising plan to secure a location for the cafe and resume licensing and permitting applications.

“Likely these activities will resume in the fall/winter, once there is more clarity on social consumption licensing,” she wrote.

Another Easthampton resident, Seth Frappier, is a self-described “cannathlete” working on opening a private, members only social consumption lounge in the fall where people can bring their own legal cannabis and consume it before participating in activities such as yoga, hiking and workouts.

Frappier said he plans to start applying for a social cannabis consumption license when applications become available around October with the hope of being able to sell single serve cannabis products to lounge members, similar to a bar, by February 2019.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” Frappier said, “but there’s still a lot you can do to prep. It’s a roller coaster.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com. M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.