Great Barrington mulls recreational pot regulations ahead of July sales

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GREAT BARRINGTON — As the countdown begins on the sale of marijuana for recreational use, the town is getting ready.

Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin told the Select Board Monday that it needs to decide on town-specific zoning and other regulations ahead of July, when sale of recreational marijuana for adult use can officially begin.

Tabakin said the town could apply a local option tax surcharge capped at 3 percent, as well as restrictions on the location of sales and how many places can sell or cultivate marijuana.

The board can also choose a moratorium on sales for a year to give it time to make these decisions.

Tabakin explained that if a community voted yes in 2016 for recreational sales initiative, restrictions would have to be approved by voters.

"We were a 'yes' town," she said. "So if we want to do local regulations or a moratorium, we need to do special town meeting in the fall, then in the spring, we could do the other zoning and other bylaws [at Annual Town Meeting]."

In Great Barrington, 64 percent of residents voted for the Number 4 ballot initiative.

In July Gov. Charlie Baker signed the measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use after months of negotiations in the state Legislature made significant changes to the initiative approved by more than half the state's voters.

The overall sales tax was hiked from 12 percent to 20 percent, on which the state gets a 6.25 percent sales tax and a 10.75 excise tax, and communities get 3 percent local option tax.

The state is looking at a lot of tax revenue from marijuana sales in the first year alone — up to $83 million, according to the state Department of Revenue. And that number may rise to around $200 million in second year.

Tabakin said the town Planning Board would address the matter soon as well.

And Matt Meandro, who co-owns Shire, a Railroad Street head shop, said he's thinking about getting into the business, but won't be selling it here because the shop is too small.

He also said he's pretty sure the state regulations, to be decided by the still-forming Cannabis Control Commission are going to be "exceedingly stricter" than in other states that allow recreational sales, making it more expensive in what is already a big capital investment.

And Meandro said he thinks towns should do what the Berkshires, particularly Great Barrington, has been so good at by keeping the big national companies out.

"To realize that as a local business [recreational sales] can bring a lot of money back into the local economy," he said. "This industry should be about small investors."

"In the mass consumer world, Great Barrington is an escape from that," he added, noting how much tourism is driven here as a result.

But he did note that for many, the notion of buying and selling marijuana, with all of its cultural associations, is "off-color or taboo."

"But we need to look at it pragmatically," he said.

And besides, he added, the initiative "was passed by the majority of citizens in the town and the state."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871


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