LANESBOROUGH — A New York City chocolatier is eyeing a former pizza restaurant on Route 8 at which to make and sell chocolate-based recreational marijuana products.
Lev Kelman, under the name Royal Hemp LLC, plans to manufacture and sell cannabis-infused chocolate at the vacant Arizona Pizza across from the northern entrance to the Berkshire Mall. Royal Hemp has bought the eatery, which closed in February 2018.
Kelman has hired cannabis consultants Ezra Parzybok and Mark Jarvis from Northampton to help him navigate the local and state approval process toward setting up the manufacturing/retail facility in the 3,135-square-foot building.
"The typical manufacturing can be about 1,000 square feet and, at most, the retail in the state is 2,500 square feet. This is not a big operation," Parzybok told the Planning Board on Monday night.
Kelman wasn't present at the planners' meeting or at Tuesday's Select Board meeting to discuss the host community agreement, the initial step taken for local approval.
In March, Kelman initially had discussed with the town that he was considering a marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facility at the former J.C. Penney store at the mall. Parzybok told The Eagle he believes that concept fell through because of the financial troubles of mall ownership.
Kelman is no stranger to pot-related products. He told the Select Board in March that he uses medicinal marijuana, and four years ago he began selling hemp chocolate bars at his store, Brooklyn Dark in New York City, which he opened in 2011. His website notes that the hemp seeds have no THC, the active chemical in marijuana that provides the high for users.
The chocolate produced here would contain THC, and would be sold at the Lanesborough store and on the wholesale market in Massachusetts.
Kelman needs the Planning Board to approve the project's site plan, and a host community agreement from the Select Board, before the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will consider his state license application. The consultants are negotiating the host agreement, the sticking point being the town's legal counsel, KP Law of Boston, proposing that the town assess an additional 2 percent tax atop the 3 percent community impact fee on gross sales, according to state cannabis regulations. The consultants told the Select Board on Tuesday night that the added municipal cost would be unfair.
"I have concerns with this clause," said Town Manager Kelli Robbins. "Will Lanesborough [marijuana] vendors be priced out of business?"
The selectmen called for a face-to-face meeting with KP Law, asking it to justify the added tax.
Since the proposed pot shop location is zoned for recreational marijuana production and retail, it's a by-right use, with no special permit needed.
The town planners seem most concerned with patrons waiting to enter the store near the state highway.
"That particular location doesn't warrant standing in line along Route 8," said Planning Board Chairman Jamie Szczepaniak.
The consultants said they don't expect an issue with long lines.
"Having 100 people in the queue outside the building would be a dream," Jarvis said.
Royal Hemp looks to become the second marijuana facility with local backing. Town officials already have given the green light to Liberty Market LLC to open a retail store in the former Subway shop at 126 S. Main St. The CCC has yet to grant Liberty a state license.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6233.