For legal pot, Williamstown just might set an example
WILLIAMSTOWN — As the age of retail marijuana dawns, Williamstown is ready to roll.
Town officials have completed Host Community Agreements with a company planning to open a retail shop and a medical marijuana dispensary in town.
Such agreements, mandated by the state, define what is required of shop owners regarding local fees and tax payments, and Williamstown, working with the shop owner of Silver Therapeutics, has carved out a set of requirements that might provide an example for others towns.
"The challenge has been that there aren't a ton of examples of a standard, municipally preferred HCA," Town Manager Jason Hoch said. "But we have examined HCAs from a few other towns to be sure we're not missing anything."
Silver Therapeutics is seeking to license a medical marijuana dispensary and a retail shop proposed for Colonial Plaza on Main Street. The state's Cannabis Control Commission is targeting July for the issuing of retail marijuana sales licenses.
Hoch said the process was more collaboration than negotiation, and the result is good for both parties.
There are two agreements with Silver Therapeutics, Hoch noted: one for the medical dispensary and one for the retail side. Both were completed and signed in early February, after being reviewed by the Select Board. They are five-year agreements.
He said the retail agreement includes provisions for a local option tax of 3 percent of gross sales, and another 3 percent fee to defer costs incurred by having the business in town. State sales tax of 14 percent will bring the total taxation amount to 20 percent.
The retail agreement also calls for an annual donation of $5,000 for a nonprofit that will use the money for drug education, prevention and treatment. Hoch said he tried to quantify what amount would be appropriate by consulting with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, which spends about the same amount on drug education and prevention programs yearly.
The deal also has provisions that encourage the hiring of local workers and the use of local vendors as much as possible. It also requires town approval of the location manager.
And even if state regulators approve on-site consumption, the deal requires that the local retail shop prohibits on-site use of marijuana.
Silver Therapeutics also is required to apply to the Williamstown Zoning Board of Appeals for a special use permit for the proposed location. Company founder and CEO Joshua Silver said that, once he has the design plans for the store, he will attach them to the application, which he expects to submit in the next few weeks.
He said he is happy with the way the agreements worked out.
"Overall, I am satisfied," he said, noting that much of it, including the taxation provisions, was dictated by the state.
"The town insisted on the maximum percentages, and I had no objection," Silver said. "And they negotiated a donation to charity, which I had no objection to either. Hopefully, the town is satisfied with it — I am."
Hoch noted that other towns might pattern what they do after what Williamstown has done.
"Some people are watching what we're doing, so this could be sort of a reference for other towns," he said. "We ended up just a little bit ahead of the curve."
Select Board Chairman Hugh Daley said that although the town manager is authorized to enter into contracts for the town without approval from the board, the agreements were such a new type of arrangement, the board felt that it was appropriate to review the final documents.
"We just wanted to be sure there was an understanding about tax payments and our desire that they run a clean shop," he said. "They did a great job and got a good agreement."
Scott Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-629-4517.
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