Our Opinion: Widening pot retail is state obligation

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Anyone who has driven past Theory Wellness in Great Barrington and seen the line of customers going out the door knows that there is money to made in Massachusetts' new retail marijuana industry. Great Barrington is getting its healthy taste of the proceeds but it remains to be seen if the financial benefits will be gained elsewhere in the Berkshires and if those the state says it wants to benefit from this new industry will actually do so.

Great Barrington and Pittsfield, home to Temescal Wellness, have received their first checks from the state Department of Revenue, with Great Barrington receiving $185,807 and Pittsfield a modest $10,532. (Eagle, April 18). Theory Wellness benefits from both a prominent location on a major highway and its location close to the Connecticut and New York State borders. Theory Wellness grossed a substantial $$6,193,574 in its first quarter of operation and has added staff to keep up with demand.

More pot retailers will be opening in the state and the Berkshires in 2019 and that will offer insight into the limits of the pot marketplace. Berkshire County has plenty of liquor stores but it seems unlikely that there are as many people who avail themselves of pot products as drink beer, wine and a variety of spirits. If there are, however, then the numbers will testify to the reality.

A major goal of the legislation enabling a marijuana industry was the assurance that there would be minority ownership and that there would be a trickle-down effect that would benefit poorer communities and their residents. According to a Boston Globe story last month, none of the stores licensed in the state at this point involve an "economic empowerment applicant" — specifically women or ethnic minorities. This may have been idealistic, as it comes as no surprise that the applicants who were ready to hit the ground running and open shops and hire personnel were largely individuals or companies with the financial ability to do so. Start-up costs range between $1 million and $5 million. The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) wants to work with the state Legislature and other state agencies to fulfill this promise but unless the state comes up with a substantial pot of money to provide to economic empowerment applicants this isn't going to happen.

What can and should happen is financially successful pot retailers reaching out to their communities — which Theory Wellness, to its credit, is doing. The company is offering up to $250,000 along with business advice to a disadvantaged person or team trying to open a cannabis retail shop in Massachusetts (Eagle, April 18). Theory Wellness wants to give a boost to someone who had been harmed by the war of drugs, which is in keeping with the state's original goal, and eligible applicants must have been certified as economic empowerment applicants by the CCC.

"The state should be doing this," said Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Growing Advocacy Council, in reference to a Theory Wellness program that appears to be the first of its kind in the state. The state should and ideally it will. But traditional businesses have always gone beyond paying taxes and providing jobs to giving back to their community through fund-raisers, sponsorships and other strategies, and Theory Wellness' effort "to do something that was impactful," in the words of CEO Brandon Pollock, amounts to a nontraditional business carrying on this tradition. We urge other Berkshire marijuana retailers to follow their lead in the months and years ahead.

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