Tax rate cut for 'micro' weed manufacturers in Great Barrington
GREAT BARRINGTON — With marijuana businesses beginning to sprout across the Berkshires, the town has taken steps to ensure there is a level playing field for smaller manufacturing startups.
The change would also help the town remain competitive with other communities trying to draw in cannabis entrepreneurs.
The Select Board recently voted 3-1 to lower its usual 3 percent community impact fee for marijuana businesses to 1.5 percent for the smaller, "micro" manufacturers. It also lowered the amount these businesses must contribute to local nonprofits, from $10,000 annually to 1.5 percent of annual sales — and only up to $15,000.
And that's just the kind of leg up that entrepreneurs like Andrew Katkin and Jacob Stricof need.
The Lee cousins, who are planning to apply to the town to make cannabis-infused chocolates under the name Superfine Edibles, had asked the board if it would consider lowering the fees, then attended the board's meeting in which it was discussed. The impact fee is meant to address things like traffic, infrastructure wear and tear, and other unforeseen problems that might cost the town. Most board members said a small manufacturer would have less of an "impact" on the town than marijuana retail shops.
Some board members also said lowering the fees would keep the town appealing, tax-wise, for smaller producers looking to grow a business.
Superfine Edibles, which is the first manufacturer to seek town approval, will still have to pay the state's 20 percent marijuana sales tax, 3 percent of which filters back to the town.
Board member Kate Burke said lowering the impact fee could help those with "shallow pockets" get into the marijuana market.
"It is one of the things we'd like to see more of," she said of small-scale manufacturing. "It gives ... people with less money who want to start a marijuana business the potential. You really have to have super-deep pockets to start a retail marijuana establishment in Great Barrington or in any town."
Board Vice Chairman Ed Abrahams agreed.
"I think we could use the businesses, the jobs," he said.
Great Barrington is still adjusting. When the state opened the doors to recreational licensing in July, the board began fielding applications from speculators in a new and highly regulated recreational marijuana industry. So far, there has been a healthy rush of entrepreneurs looking to cash in on Great Barrington's cool urbanized atmosphere and proximity to two state lines.
One medical and recreational retailer is already open in town, with long lines and a parking lot full of out-of-state plates. Four more shops are set to open within the year.
While overall future impact of all marijuana businesses might be unclear, one thing appears certain: The industry is predicted to drive a lot of new revenue into town coffers.
Some concerns were aired — but not many.
Member Daniel Bailly, who voted against lowering the fees, said he thought the impact of such businesses might be more or equal to that of retailers.
Burke said one concern she has heard in town is that marijuana businesses as a whole might drive up rents, since those could be better prepared to pay higher prices.
Katkin and Stricof, the co-owners of Superfine Edibles, are about to sign a lease on Stockbridge Road. They said that, after renovations, they'll likely open in the late summer. They emphasized to the board the notion that a break on taxes and fees can encourage the smaller startup.
"We are of the narrower pockets looking to bring a startup into the community," Katkin told the board, in support of reduced fees.
He said this will help grow the business to eventually hire more employees, and explained that the "micro" license for which they are applying requires state residency. It also limits the business to the use of 2,000 pounds of flower, or marijuana bud, per year.
Later, Katkin, who has ties to the area, said he moved here from Hartford, Conn., two years ago in anticipation of building this business. He set to work educating himself in the art of chocolate-making, and when Stricof later joined him from New York City, the two have worked to become experts.
They plan to focus on chocolate, but might expand to make other edibles, they said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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