Legalization in Massachusetts has not been without controversy. About a third of municipalities have opted to ban recreational dispensaries from opening within their borders. In addition, the slow pace of licensing by the Cannabis Control Commission has led to the collection of just $18 million in marijuana tax revenue through the beginning of May, less than a third of the state’s forecast of $63 million for the fiscal year ending in June. The state keeps 17% of the 20% sales tax.
Even Great Barrington, which worked quickly to enact zoning laws to speed the opening of dispensaries, is seeing some pushback as four more shops await state approval to open.
“People are saying, ‘It’s too many. We’re going to be known as Pot Town,'” said Select Board member Ed Abrahams.
But so far the town, at its annual meeting, has voted only to “consider” limits on new dispensaries. Abrahams said that being first to market with Theory Wellness proved to be “a windfall” for Great Barrington.
“I saw a million-and-a-half-dollar advantage to being first,” he said of what he expects the town to receive in local taxes on the dispensaries’ revenue each year if it continues at its current rate of more than $6 million in quarterly sales. The town collects a 3% tax on sales and an additional 3% community-impact fee, which comes out of the dispensary’s pocket and likely will be spent on health, wellness and drug education initiatives.
Others are benefiting too.
“We’ve seen a double-digit percentage increase in our sales for the first two quarters,” said Robin Helfand, owner of Robin’s Candy Shop, on the town’s Main Street. The increase was “significant,” she said, because it encompassed the region’s slow period between the end of ski season and the beginning of summer.
Helfand, who distributes coupons to people waiting on the Theory Wellness line, has extended her shop hours, added staff and put in a section of salty snacks that Theory Wellness customers have requested. She is looking forward to another dispensary, Calyx Berkshire, opening directly across the street. Its owner plans to emphasize advance orders, letting shoppers stroll around town until a phone app or buzzer tells them their goods are ready.
If the plan works, it could spread the windfall around.
“It will keep people from blocking the sidewalk,” Helfand said. “And it will build business for everyone.”