Amherst Select Board recommends TM limit number of pot shops

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — A cap on the number of recreational marijuana retailers that can operate in Amherst and a 3 percent tax on the product are being recommended to Town Meeting by the Select Board.

But board members Monday voted against supporting a temporary moratorium that would push sales back to 2019, unless associated zoning that creates a specific use category for recreational marijuana establishments is not approved.

These are among the five articles on the warrant for the special Town Meeting, which begins Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at the middle school auditorium, that focus on how to handle the product that was legalized by Massachusetts voters, with 74 percent support in Amherst, last November.

Though the board agreed to a limit of eight retailers, members said they could support a lower number if Town Meeting amends the article.

Chairman Douglas Slaughter said six recreational pot shops may be a more reasonable number.

On the working group that discussed marijuana matters, board member Connie Kruger said the upper limit was not scientifically determined.

“It is, in many ways, a number pulled out of the air,” Kruger said.

Board member Alisa Brewer noted that since four medical marijuana shops applied to open in Amherst, the higher number gives other entrepreneurs an opportunity to come to town.

Board members had no qualms about setting the highest local options tax possible.

Board member Andrew Steinberg said there will be real costs to health, safety and education, meaning it is appropriate to levy the 3 percent tax to generate necessary revenue.

The Planning Board has crafted a new use category that would guide town planners on where shops could locate, including allowing them to be in mixed-use buildings with residences.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup said the only site that would meet this expanded criteria is Kendrick Place, at the corner of Triangle and East Pleasant streets.

But the Select Board is only recommending this article 3-2, with both Slaughter and Kruger expressing reservations that expanding where recreational marijuana is sold could be too dramatic a change from the rules in place for medical marijuana.

The lone article the board is not supporting is the temporary moratorium, which would run through the end of 2018 and give town officials more time to set rules, depending on the Cannabis Control Commission, which is developing regulations for the industry in the state.

Though drafted by the Planning Board, planners are not making a recommendation.

The Select Board is also supporting an article that would prohibit the use of marijuana in all forms, including blunts, edibles and vaporizers, in public spaces, similar to an existing town bylaw related to tobacco use.

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