Lenox liquor store owner wants to branch out into marijuana


LENOX — A longtime local business proprietor is applying to open the town's first adult-use recreational retail marijuana shop, just three weeks after voters approved limiting cannabis enterprises to the commercial zones on Route 7/20 (Pittsfield Road).

Jim Nejaime, owner of Spirited, a wine and liquor shop at the busy intersection of Pittsfield and Holmes roads, presented his request for a host community agreement to the Select Board on Wednesday night — the first step required by the state's Cannabis Control Commission.

"It didn't take long for this to happen, and that's OK," said Select Board Chairman Edward Lane. "We're all prepared for it; this has been asked and answered many times across the state on what we have to do."

Nejaime, who formed a new company, Cedar Wellness LLC with partner Stephen Abraham, told the board members that he has a verbal agreement for a lease with property owner Eric Taylor for retail space at 439 Pittsfield Road.

The site, formerly occupied by Essencials Day Spa, is in the commercial building that houses Electra's Cafe, Papa John's pizza shop and Spartan Fitness.

Abraham is chief financial officer for Berkshire Wellco (The Pass), a Sheffield-based cannabis company with a license to farm, process and sell marijuana products. It would be the primary product supplier for the Lenox retail shop.

The letter of intent requesting the agreement arrived at Town Hall on Monday, Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen said. If the agreement is approved by the Select Board, Nejaime would pursue a complex series of licensing agreements from the state commission. At the same time, he will need to seek a special permit from the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals.

"This is a very long process," Ketchen pointed out. "The host community agreement is a very small component, but it is the first thing that has to be negotiated between the selectmen and the proposed proprietor."

"We saw an opportunity because I have experience running a business that has to be careful about control and sales to underage or anyone who's not appropriate," said Nejaime. "We're trying to feel our way through the process, since before applying to the state we need the host community agreement."

"We're ready to take the next step — once everything is lined up," building owner Taylor told The Eagle on Thursday. The 3,700-square-foot retail space has been vacant since October, he said.

"We've talked with the other tenants, and they all feel that the additional foot traffic will be good for their businesses; the more people in front of their signs, the more it'll benefit them," Taylor said. He also said the complex has plenty of parking; "more than required by zoning."

Nejaime said he has agreements with Joseph Toole, who owns the adjacent Hampton Inn and Yankee Inn, and other neighbors for overflow parking if needed.

Taylor recalled that Nejaime first approached him in January or February about a potential lease for retail marijuana, pending zoning approval for cannabis operations in the commercial strip.

"Jim's a great guy," he said. "I'm happy a local business guy is doing it."

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According to the zoning bylaw approved at the May 2 annual town meeting, retail and other marijuana businesses can locate in the commercial corridor north of downtown, with a limit of two retail pot shops in the town.

If all goes smoothly, Nejaime and Abraham told the Select Board, the store could open late this year at the earliest, or, much more likely, early in 2020.

"There's a ton of state regulations" to deal with, he said, such as "seed to sale" tracking, security, "everything that's needed to have a safe, proper operation."

Ketchen noted that staff time at Town Hall in connection with the application will be billed to the applicant.

Once the business is up and running, the town will capture a community impact fee annually, a 3 percent tax on gross sales of all products sold in the store, according to a general bylaw adopted by town meeting voters. According to state law, the impact fee is valid for five years, and then can be renegotiated.

"I'm sure the youth of this town will be well-educated on the use of this project," Selectwoman Marybeth Mitts said. She cited an additional $10,000 annual fee paid by the applicant to educate the public about potential substance abuse, including a program aimed at public school students.

"I wish you the best of luck," she told Nejaime and Abraham.

"We're excited to be the first," Nejaime responded. "We hope to run a community-oriented business. I have a lot of friends who are seniors and utilize the product for medical, sleep and other benefits."

As Selectman Lane put it, "I have a great comfort level that the first one is a local person we know. That, to me, goes a long way."

On a similar note, Selectman Neal Maxymillian told Nejaime that "it's comforting to me, given the big national people that are out there, that it's a Lenox business person and resident, so that feels good."

The combined state and local tax rate on recreational marijuana is 20 percent. Under the state law, customers pay a 10.75 percent excise tax in addition to the state's regular 6.25 percent sales tax. The 3 percent local community impact fee adopted by Lenox is optional for cities and towns.

The Select Board will resume its discussion on the application at its next meeting on June 5.

In his letter seeking a host community agreement, Nejaime wrote that "we see ourselves as a top-quality retailer first and a cannabis business second. We want to build strong relationships with our customers to ensure long-term relationships while working to improve the economic base within Berkshire County."

"This includes product sourcing, the hiring of local employees and using local vendors to the greatest extent practical," he added.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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