Not everyone was high on legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts.
When the issue of recreational pot came before voters in a referendum in 2016 there were dire warnings from law enforcement and municipal officials of the potentially pernicious effects of legalization.
But there were also officials who saw — not danger — but dollar signs.
That’s because legalization was prompted as potentially meaning an important new revenue stream for cities and towns struggling to provide the services citizens demanded with limited revenues — particularly in the wake of the state’s Proposition 2 ½ property tax limiting law — and uncertain state aid revenue.
But it wasn’t just the usual fees and local taxes, where municipal governments could tack on 3%. Under the proposed law, communities could also charge “impact fees” as part of their host agreements with marijuana retailers, up to 3% of a business’ gross annual income to cover whatever added costs — police, traffic control, litter — it might face for a term of five years.
While that potential windfall was not the only reason, legal marijuana finally gained favor with the voting public as well.
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.
And, as staff writer George W. Rhodes notes in today’s front page story, the the results for the Jewelry City have been, well, smoking.
Attleboro has received almost $2 million — $1,713,971 — from its two recreational outlets to date.
Out of that amount $585,814 was received in Fiscal Year 2021 and $1,128,156 was received in FY 2022.
And according to Marijuana Moment, a website covering the industry, the state is making out as well. In fact, the state is now collecting more tax revenue from marijuana than from alcohol.
As of December 2021, the state took in $51.3 million from alcohol taxes and $74.2 million from cannabis at the halfway point of the fiscal year.
Overall, Massachusetts has seen $2.54 billion in adult-use marijuana purchases since the market came online in November 2018. Regulators first reported that the state achieved the $2 billion sales milestone in September.
The question becomes, then, is Massachusetts in general and are cities and towns in particular, threatening to kill the plant that laid the golden egg.
What have been the costly impacts of recreational marijuana retail operations in local communities? That’s hard to say.
That’s been true statewide, as cities and towns have largely failed to adequately account for why the money is needed or where it goes.
Pot shop owners who originally agreed to the steep fees charged to their businesses, mostly, we think, to blunt opposition from skittish officials and neighbors, are starting to chafe under the financial burden. At least one operator, in Haverhill, is suing the city over the issue. Other operators argue that over time it’s become clear that the negative impacts never materialized.
The state Legislature is considering reforms to the cannabis law, including impact fees. But before they do, lawmakers should also mandate that cities and towns spell out what their expenses are and how the fees are used.
The state should help a promising industry to flourish, not force it to go up in smoke.