ATTLEBORO -- It started with a little puff — a smoke signal, as it were — and it came out of California.
It was 1996 and the Golden State had made medical marijuana legal.
That was 23 years ago and Bill Clinton, he who didn’t inhale, was president.
For those too young to remember, Clinton admitted in the 1992 presidential campaign that he smoked marijuana while a student at Oxford University in England, but claimed he didn’t inhale the smoke and missed out on being mellow and hungry.
Of course, inhaling is the main point of smoking marijuana, so why he didn’t (if he was truthful, and that’s always a big question with any politician) is a mystery.
But now in retirement and his golden years, he can try it again if he wants and inhale to his heart’s content in 32 states and the District of Columbia — if he has a medically qualifying condition.
He doesn’t need a medical condition in 12 of those states and D.C., a place with which he’s very familiar, because they allow any adult to use marijuana as a recreational drug.
If he’s at home in Chappaqua, N.Y., he’ll have to have a qualifying condition.
In New York, post traumatic stress disorder is one which would qualify him, and he may have that in the wake of his wife Hillary’s stunning loss in the 2016 presidential race to Donald Trump.
The weed may have come in handy during some of his time in the White House, but it wasn’t legally available.
It is now for the current occupant and all future occupants, some of whom may well turn to it in times of great stress — and there’ll be plenty of those times.
Anyway, New York authorized the use of medical marijuana in 2014 and was one of the 19 states and the District of Columbia to do so since 2010, when the legalization movement for medical use of the drug really picked up momentum.
After California unleashed the drug that was illegal for decades, it’s gained acceptance and has rolled over the nation like a giant green cloud — the color of the plant and the money it produces. It’s also caused disruption to a billion-dollar black market and its sidewalk sales reps.
In some quarters the trend has elicited warnings similar to those in films like the 1936 movie “Reefer Madness,” which demonized the drug.
But at the moment, governments big and small are looking with hungry eyes to the money, leaving potential consequences on the back burner.
With marijuana for medical use gaining wide acceptance — with just 18 states holding out — attention among pot promoters turned to legalizing for all any time.
Since 2012, 11 states and D.C, or 22 percent of the nation, have done just that.
That’s faster than the approval rate for medical marijuana when it took 11 years to get to 11 states.
It’s not known if that pace will be maintained or pick up, but it has momentum.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 27 additional states had legalization bills under consideration this year.
Most died in committee or were not acted on before the legislatures adjourned.
The exceptions were Illinois, which is the latest state to legalize adult use marijuana, and the U.S. territory of Guam, which did the same.
The local story
Closer to home, Massachusetts voters authorized the legalization of medical marijuana in 2012 and adult use, also known as recreational, of marijuana in 2016.
The rollout was slow for each, but that pace has quickened.
The first retail shop selling adult use pot opened on Nov. 20 of last year.
To date the state’s Cannabis Control Commission has authorized the opening of 22 retail shops — none in Attleboro or nearby communities — the closest appears to be Caroline’s Cannabis in Uxbridge, about 27 miles away.
But sales have been brisk.
At the end of June the CCC reported $176 million in sales since the first shops opened in Leicester and Northampton.
On the medical side, 50 retail shops have been approved to sell and at least 34 have opened — none in Attleboro. The closest is Commonwealth Alternative Care in Taunton about 12 miles away.
With all that as prelude, what’s happening here in the Jewelry City?
City officials have been busy.
In the statewide votes of 2012 and 2016, Attleboro voters went along with the rest of the state and approved medical and adult use marijuana at percentages of 64 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
Since then, the city has created two ordinances to govern the sale of the drug, one in 2015 for medical and one in 2018 for both medical and recreational, which eliminated the 2015 ordinance.
Once those ordinances were in place, applications — first for medical marijuana businesses and then recreational marijuana businesses — came rolling in.
There are two major restrictions imposed by the city’s ordinance.
First, marijuana businesses can only be located in industrial zones and second, there can be only five retail operations.
Prospective pot shops in the Jewelry City
All told, eight pot shop owners have applied for city permits.
Those eight owners account for 10 businesses, and here’s a summary of where they stand in the application process.
- Bristol County Wellness Center, LLC, 34 Extension St., appears to the closest to opening.
The company’s President Derek Ross, of Rhode Island did not respond to a request for comment, but his business has provisional state approvals for medical and recreational retail shops as well as cultivation and manufacturing.
BCWC also has the special permits needed from the city.
In previous comments, Ross said he hoped to open this summer after renovations to his building are complete and he gets final approvals from the state.
- Ashli’s Inc., 70 Frank Mossberg Drive, is a retail recreational use marijuana business that has provisional state permits and a special permit from the city council.
However, owners Ashley and John Irving of Attleboro must construct the 3,520-square-foot building in which they plan to operate.
- Ashli’s Farm Inc., 76 Frank Mossberg, Drive is a marijuana cultivation business owned by the Irvings.
It has provisional state permits and a special permit from the city council.
As with the retail business, the Irvings must construct the 130,982-square-foot building in which they plan to run the cultivation operation, which will take up 118,662 square feet of the structure.
- Ashli’s Extracts, Inc., 76 Frank Mossberg Drive, is a marijuana manufacturing business owned by the Irvings.
It has provisional state permits and a special permit from the city council.
This business is slated to operate in 5,054 square feet of the 130,982-square-foot building yet to be constructed.
- The Leonard J. Irving Center, Inc., 70 Frank Mossberg Drive, is a medical marijuana retail business owned by the Irvings.
It has submitted an application to the state and has been granted a special permit by the city council for its medical marijuana business.
It would be co-located with the retail recreational marijuana business in the building to be constructed at 70 Frank Mossberg.
- Briarleaf, LLC, Building 11, 527 Pleasant St., is a retail and cultivation medical marijuana business owned by Jonathan Brucks of Foxboro.
The company has provisional approval from the state and special permit from the city council.
However, an amendment to that special permit requesting an expansion to the cultivation part of the business is pending before the zoning board of appeals.
- Beacon Compassion Center, Inc., 30 Franklin McKay Road, is a medical marijuana cultivation and manufacturing business owned by Catherine Cametti of Norwood.
It has an application pending at the state, but has not yet applied for a special permit from the zoning board of appeals, which took over the permitting process from the city council in April.
- Major Bloom, LLC, 20 John Williams St., is a retail recreational marijuana business owned by Laury Lucien of Boston.
It has submitted an application to the state for a recreational retail business and has an application pending before the zoning board of appeals for a special permit.
Lucien, the only business owner of all those contacted to respond to a request for comment, said the company plans to submit applications for cultivation and manufacturing to the state “in the near future.”
- Aspen Blue Cultures, Inc., 40 Forest St. is a retail medical and recreational marijuana business owned by Jack Cutlip of Rhode Island.
It has not submitted an application to the state, but has a special permit application pending before the zoning board of appeals.
The company plans to build a 3,000-square-foot shop on the 15-acre property at 40 Forest St.
- Cannatech Medicinals Inc., 220 O’Neil Bvld. is a medical marijuana retail business owned by Dr. Henry Crowley of Fall River.
It has withdrawn an application to the state for a medical marijuana license. It has a special permit from the city council.
Crowley planned to open a 3,000-square-foot shop in what was formerly a restaurant.
Crowley did not respond to a request for comment on the status of his plan.
- An unnamed marijuana business had hoped to locate at 495 Collins St.
The property is owned by Sterry Street Auto Sales.
Sterry Street applied to the zoning board of appeals for a variance and two special permits that would allow the unnamed company to apply to the city council for a special permit to operate a retail medical marijuana business.
The property is partly zoned residential and partly industrial. Marijuana businesses must be located in industrial zones.
The zoning board, however, rejected the applications, killing the project.
Sterry Street Auto is now seeking a zoning change to general business which would allow the opening of a non-marijuana business on the site.
All 10 businesses, which are at various stages of the application process, have Community Host Agreements with the city.
In general, they all call for an annual payment of 3 percent of gross sales to the city over a period of five years or until the business closes.
How much that would generate no one knows at this point.
But if each business had $1 million in revenue for
a total of $10 million a year, the 3 percent would equal $300,000 a year or $1.5 million over five years.
The city will reap more cash with a permanent 3 percent sales tax on the sale or recreational marijuana.
Medical marijuana is not taxed.
The state’s take
Meanwhile, the state is reaping cash from the 22 recreational marijuana businesses already open.
It has a sales tax of 6.25 percent and an excise tax of 10.75 percent on adult-use marijuana for a total tax of 17 percent.
Between Nov. 20 of last year and June 30 of this year, those shops sold $176 million worth of recreational marijuana and related products.
That number times .17 equals $29,920,000 in tax revenue for about seven months.
In its revenue report for May, the state’s Department of Revenue posted actual year-to-date sales tax and excise tax receipts from marijuana businesses of $16.4 million.
Tax revenues have shot up every month since December, when the combined sales and excise tax collection was $678,134.
More open shops equal more tax revenue.
After December, the monthly totals for January, February, March, April and May respectively were $1.9 million, $2.4 million, $2.9 million, $3.8 million and $4.7 million.
If collections level off at $4.7 million the state would gain about $57 million for a 12-month period.
How much sales will eventually yield depends on how many marijuana businesses are eventually approved and at what point the businesses are able to tap into all prospective buyers.
At the end of June, when there were 20 marijuana businesses being taxed, sales were coming in at $10 million a week.
The sales have been on the rise steadily over the 31 weeks of sales as more and more shops have opened.
If, for example, sales leveled off in the future to $10 million a week, that would be a total of $520 million year.
That would be $88.4 million a year in taxes for the state.
A June 11 article in an online marijuana business website called Marijuana Business Daily estimated that recreational marijuana would generate $450 million to $500 million in sales for Massachusetts this year alone.
Sales in 2019 through June are $159 million. At the current pace that would total $318 million for the year.
To meet the $500 million mark sales would have to jump to an average of $13.1 million a week, which they could with 48 retail licenses at the “final” or “provisional” stages of the state approval process.
Meanwhile statista.com has higher estimates. That website predicts $729 million this year and $1 billion next year reaching $1.3 billion in 2025.
But Massachusetts has a long way to go to match the top pot sales of some states in the West.
California, at $2.75 billion, Colorado, at $1.56 billion, Washington, at $1 billion and Oregon, at $777 million, have roaring marijuana economies, according to an article in Forbes magazine.
However, the $1 billion number may be possible here considering Massachusetts has a population of about 7 million, which is about the same or greater than each of those states except California, which is nearing 40 million.
The city’s future in weed
How the city will fare with its marijuana businesses remains to be seen.
Mayor Paul Heroux is a big supporter of them and would like to see retail outlets in all commercial zones.
When the council approved the city’s marijuana ordinance in August of last year, the mayor threatened to veto it because, in his opinion, it was too restrictive and would limit the city’s ability to take advantage of a burgeoning business and the money it’s expected to produce.
Heroux said he would like to see at least 10 retail pot businesses in the city and that they should be allowed in all commercial zones.
“In terms of economic development in the city, I think (city councilors) have a Victorian-type attitude toward marijuana,” he said at the time. “It’s such a common thing now, I don’t see it changing society. People are already doing it, but now they can get it legally.”
Heroux said more pot shops mean more money for city coffers.
The council itself was conflicted.
Councilor Todd Kobus tried to amend the ordinance to allow marijuana sales in all commercial zones, but lost on a 6-4 vote.
It was loss, but two more votes at another time could put pot shops in those zones.
The number of retail shops can be changed just as easily.
In the first vote, councilors deferred to the request of Police Chief Kyle Heagney, who said he prefers pot shops in industrial zones where they will be easier to police and present less of a danger to the public.
Heagney considers marijuana a dangerous drug and believes the negative consequences of legalization will reveal themselves in due time.
But while pot businesses are allowed only in industrial zones, some of those zones are not tucked away in industrial parks, hidden from the public.
Cannatech Medicinals Inc. had planned to locate in a former restaurant on O’Neil Boulevard, a stone’s throw from a densely populated area.
Such is the case with Aspen Blue Cultures Inc., which hopes to build a retail shop in a highly residential area on Forest Street.
The same is true for Major Bloom, which intends to locate on John Williams.
In the meantime, at least two of the businesses are taking over buildings once occupied by jewelry makers, the city’s main claim to fame for a hundred years. That has led some to wonder if marijuana could be a bright and shining gem in the city’s fading industrial base.
Major Bloom intends to grow its pot business in the former home of jeweler Guyot Bros. while Bristol County Wellness Center is remaking the former Masters of Design building to grow and sell marijuana.
All in all, Attleboro seems to be getting its share or perhaps more than its share of interest from marijuana businesses, and Kobus said there could be several reasons. Among them are the development of an ordinance that clearly lays out the requirements the need to be met, the city’s “welcoming” attitude and the availability of vacant industrial sites on which to locate.
“The council has been accommodating of these new businesses while also being respectful of the concerns of our citizens,” he said in emailed comments to The Sun Chronicle.
Some owners back up the comment.
“During the public hearing before the municipal council for Major Bloom’s special permit, (Bloom president) Laury Lucien spoke about how welcoming Attleboro has been as one of the main reasons she chose Attleboro as a location to set up shop,” he said.
And so the shops are on the way, unlike President Clinton who never visited Attleboro.
Hillary Clinton did as First Lady in 1998, just as California and other Western states were stoking the marijuana revolution.
And now that it’s made its way all the way to the East Coast, if Bill ever does come here, he’ll have number of pot shops to choose from if he wants to give the drug another try, but inhaling this time.