Who should share in the spoils of the new recreational marijuana industry? If pro-marijuana advocates were to have it their way, it won’t be any of the more than 100 municipalities that have enacted bans, moratoriums, or tight limits on licensed marijuana operations.
Advocates of legalized marijuana are preparing to push the Legislature to block cities and towns with these restrictions from receiving a single cent of the $150 million-plus in tax revenue the state could soon collect from retail marijuana sales.
It’s a long-shot idea, but backers hope there’s appeal in its moral simplicity. Their dispute amounts to the familiar parable of the Little Red Hen: Why should those who refused to help bake the bread get to eat it?
“Municipalities shouldn’t be entitled to something they took no part in,” said Kamani Jefferson, who runs the Mass. Recreational Consumer Council. The proposal, he explained, “would force their hand and really encourage them to let these businesses in.”
Currently, state law influences municipalities to welcome licensed marijuana firms by allowing them to levy a 3 percent tax on retail marijuana sales and also take a 3 percent slice of each marijuana company’s revenue. That’s the carrot.
yet Jefferson and others say the mounting number of local restrictions — particularly in communities where voters this past year approved Question 4, the ballot measure that gave the green light to legalize cannabis — is proof that a stick is needed, too.
So in January, they plan to introduce a bill that would reduce state payouts to cities and towns with bans and other restrictions on marijuana operations by an amount equivalent to what each community would get as its “share” of the state’s effective 17 percent tax on commercial pot.
Exactly how to determine that sum is just one of many formidable logistical and political obstacles the measure faces.
The Massachusetts Legislature has going on two occasions denied the language that would have given a bigger piece of state marijuana tax revenue to municipalities that open their doors to marijuana companies. Moreover, cities and towns wield considerable influence on Beacon Hill and fiercely fight for the state assistance they rely on to pave roads, build schools, and so on.
The executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which lobbies on behalf of local governments, panned the suggestion by the pro-marijuana group.
“This is punitive, wildly impractical, and impossible to implement,” Geoff Beckwith said. “The commercial marijuana law provides financial incentives for communities to zone for pot shops. Communities that decide not to are forgoing that incentive. That is the only reasonable and transparent way to shape tax policy.”
Noting that communities use state aid received from the sales tax to build and maintain schools, Beckwith asked rhetorically, should a town not get money for classroom renovations because it refused a mall permission to open there?
“The answer is no,” he said.
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