Boston City Council Prepares for Recreational Marijuana Roll Out

Massachusetts' first recreational marijuana shops still up in the air, but Worcester will play a central role. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

By Alex Rozier
BU News Service

Boston City Council discussed its strategy for introducing the recreational marijuana industry on Tuesday after a fact-finding trip to Denver in January.

The meeting, hosted by Councilor Frank Baker, sought to use Denver’s implementation strategy as a model for what Boston should expect going forward.

“A couple of things that I think we learned is that the sky isn’t going to fall,” Baker said. “This is an industry that’s coming, and like the city council in Denver said, the city spoke and it is our job to roll it out.”

Along with members from the State Treasury Department, the council outlined the likely taxation strategies for Boston; similar to Colorado, which has a 12.9 percent state sales tax according to the state’s Department of Revenue, Massachusetts will have a sales tax of no more than 12 percent.

One key difference between the states is that Colorado also has a 2.9 percent tax for medical cannabis, whereas Massachusetts has no sales tax on medical purchases.

While councilors said the state will want to maximize revenue from the industry, they underlined the importance of not taxing sales so much as to motivate “black market” distribution, as advised by Denver officials.

The council was impressed by certain aspects of Denver’s system, such as its tracking of cannabis from seed to plant using barcodes as well as having private labs to test the plants, yet several members expressed concern regarding safety and equity.

Councilor Annissa Essaibi George called attention to the fact that 28 percent of users in Denver consumed marijuana through edibles.

“I look at that packaging as my 10-year-old would,” George said. “Could she get into that packet of gummy bears?”

Baker added that the city may create ordinances to address outdoor smells and public consumption.

Councilor Ayanna Pressley addressed the need to localize and diversify business participants.

“We don’t want any profile of entrepreneur, or any big players, to monopolize the market and just be able to have as many licenses as they are able to procure, or to come from outside and buy up everything,” she said.

Pressley also addressed the importance of a provision in the Massachusetts law that aims to promote participation in the industry in communities that were disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.

“Based on national survey data we have, there’s less than one percent [of marijuana business owners] of color in the 25 states that have either legalized recreational or medical marijuana,” a Pressley aide said. “So Massachusetts has a real opportunity with equity.”

The Treasury Department anticipates 75 initial licenses — for retail, cultivation and manufacturing each — will be distributed in the commonwealth by the Cannabis Control Commision, Massachusetts’ new regulatory body. Councilor Michael Flaherty projected that Boston will have between 48-50 stores in the first year of licensing.

Stores will not be able to apply for licenses to sell recreational cannabis until April 2018, and cannot open for business until July 2018 at the earliest.

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