Our Opinion: Making the pot law work in the state

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A brave new world; the Wild West; boldly going where no man has gone before — however one wants to characterize it, the implementation of Massachusetts' new pot law marks uncharted territory. Last November, Bay State voters passed a referendum legalizing the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. It isn't as simple, however, as saying, "Hey, weed is legal. Let's go get stoned!"

This summer, Beacon Hill solons responded to the popular mandate and reluctantly weighed in — bickering, horse-trading and missing deadlines — to ultimately craft solid compromise cannabis legislation. Governor Charlie Baker signed their compromise bill into law on July 28, and now the cities, towns and hamlets of the state have until July of 2018 to craft their own local ordinances, taxation policies and zoning rules as defined within the scope of the new legislation.

Aspects of the new cannabis law can be bewildering; there is the standard 6.25 percent state sales tax, a 10.75 percent state excise tax, and an optional 3 percent local tax. In towns that voted in favor of the referendum, local legalization will be approved by the voters. In those that voted against, elected officials will have final say. At what proximity can retailers locate to a school or residential neighborhood? What about growing and processing operations?

Understandably, local officials are no more informed about the vagaries of the pot law than any other average citizen; in fact, legislators would probably be hard-pressed to explain some of its more arcane regulationss.

In this vein, on August 31 the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will be hosting a workshop in Lenox led by a lawyer who can educate local government officials on how to navigate the fast-approaching regulatory shoals. The session — which will be open to the general public — will not be a forum for a pro-or-con debate on legalization. That train has already left the station, and now everybody's job is to find his seat and settle down for the ride.

One aspect of the law that will surely be brought up, considering Berkshire County's rich agricultural tradition, is the way the new law will affect local farmers' ability to grow the crop and compete with hothouse indoor growers who have already established a foothold in the medical marijuana industry. The five-member state Cannabis Control Commission, created under the new law, has been charged with regulating the industry and will be hammering out details such as testing, potency, licensing, packaging, health and safety, and its membership must be finalized by September 1— a deadline that is fast approaching . It will be supported in its mission by a 25-seat Cannabis Advisory Board whose members will be chosen for their expertise and knowledge of the topic.

As has been shown in other states, recreational marijuana cultivation is a boon not only to state coffers but also to local businesses and farmers. We urge the governor, attorney general and state treasurer, who control these appointments, to ensure that Western Massachusetts and its agricultural interests be properly represented and that the concerns of communities about pot shops be addressed to the greatest extent possible..


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