Berkshire delegation hopes retail marijuana can grow jobs

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BOSTON — The legalization of the recreational marijuana in Massachusetts offers a chance for economic growth for Berkshire County, area legislators believe, in agricultural and retail sectors.

The comments came as the central Massachusetts town of Milford voted last week to ban recreational marijuana shops in their community in spite of voting in favor of legalization last fall.

"I know there are people that don't like that kind of growth. They look at it as vice so they don't want that kind of business," said Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, at his Statehouse office. "I think, regardless the morality of it, there's potential for businesses to grow and create jobs."

The Cannabis Control Commission and Weedmaps, a cannabis consultant and technology company, were part of a panel discussion held by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Friday. Although the group opposed the ballot question, the Chamber says it is now on the same page in setting up marijuana industry.

Mark thinks it isn't going to be a difficult prospect in Berkshire County, where 60 to 70 percent of people voted in favor of legalized marijuana. His district consists of 16 communities in Berkshire and Franklin counties.

"There's actually a great potential for agriculture and farmers for economic growth relating to both growing the marijuana and growing industrial hemp," said Mark. "Industrial hemp, I filed a bill for that."

That sentiment was echoed by his colleague, Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, whose district includes nearly all of the city of Pittsfield.

"Pittsfield has been very open-minded about having dispensaries," said Farley-Bouvier. "Berkshire [residents] are looking for jobs, so the idea that we can have the growing industry in Berkshire is a good one."

With more than 58 percent of voters saying yes on the ballot last year, she said there's no question about where her district is going.

"For us, the attitude in Pittsfield and Berkshire, from what I heard from my constituents, is that we want there to be recreational marijuana but we need there to be safety precautions put in," she said in an interview at her Statehouse office.

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The commission that recently began its work to regulate the new industry has emphasized safety is always one of its priorities.

"There will be more public talking and listening sessions soon. We do our best to get information out there," Commissioner Shaleen Title said.

Panelists voiced similar ideas about making this business as safe as possible and negating the stigma that fogs the industry, the two main reasons cited by Milford residents in their vote.

There are more than a 100 communities statewide that have considered or imposed zoning and restrictions even though their residents favored recreational marijuana.

"The notion of being in the cannabis business is something that I whispered in the first four to six months when I was first involved. I don't need to whisper it any longer," said Weedmaps President Christopher Beals. His company has been in the business since 2008.

"This [industry] is not driven by potheads running amock. I think that is false," said Beals.

Beals worried that this concern will increase the illegal market in the neighboring areas. A reduced illegal market is one of many factors that serve as a benchmark of success in regulating recreational marijuana.

Nevertheless, the commission leaves the decision to each town or city.

"Being not the first state who has passed the law, we can look at what had happened in other states," said Title. "Aside from what already in the law, what we can do to make sure that we are the leader in this is outreach and transparency."

All cannabis Control Commission meetings are public and they are open for public inputs. Access their website here: www.mass.gov/orgs/cannabis-control-commission.


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