Our Opinion: Spending pot money wisely in communities
The cash-strapped Berkshire County communities with marijuana retailers within their borders can be forgiven for feeling like lottery ticket winners. But this revenue brings with it the responsibility of finding the best possible ways of using it. For Great Barrington, Lee, and, until Tuesday, Pittsfield, the meant putting the tax windfall in a general fund.
The City Council voted to put one-quarter of the revenue raised from its two marijuana retailers in a fund devoted to public works. ("More pot money for public services," Eagle, Oct. 23.) The proposal began with Mayor Tyer and got a boost from city councilor at large and mayoral candidate Melissa Mazzeo and Ward 4 city councilor Chris Connell, who advocated applying half of the money to annual road maintenance. According to the mayor, the money would be used toward improving unacceptable streets, improving sidewalks, tree work and park upgrades.
Election years provide an opportunity to learn about what is upsetting residents and improved roads and sidewalks appear to be a priority among Pittsfield residents this election year. It is arguable that many Pittsfielders feel their problems are unique, which is undoubtedly a characteristic of many communities. Councilor at large Peter White offered perspective Tuesday when he observed that he saw plenty of bad roads on a recent drive to Indianapolis. Our nation's infrastructure is a disgrace and help is not coming from a gridlocked Washington. State government has limits in what it can spend on infrastructure.
Massachusetts' marijuana law allows communities to collect 3 percent of the gross sales from marijuana retailers within its borders, but some towns that have tried to get around the limit by demanding "voluntary" contributions to local groups threaten to kill the golden goose. In Great Barrington, where Theory Wellness generated half a million dollars for the state in its second quarter, officials want to be certain that revenue is devoted to mitigating the harmful impacts of marijuana, but have observed in The Eagle that guidelines are vague and there is no precedent. The state's marijuana law is well-crafted but it remains a work in progress as the roll-out continues.
Pittsfield has approved nine more pot shops, which doesn't mean that the city can anticipate a proportionate increase in tax revenue. There's a marijuana sales ceiling somewhere, and some retailers in the city and county will inevitably fail. That's capitalism, and none should expect government bailouts. Government should be expected to use pot funds wisely, however, and at the local level, roads and sidewalks is a good way to please residents, and maybe even win over a few marijuana law foes.
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