Editorial: Orange still waiting for pot shop revenue

Published: 1/20/2020 8:56:48 AM

Remember the 2016 election? That year, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States (although Hillary Clinton won the state with 60 percent of the vote); Adam Hinds and Stanley Rosenberg both won seats in the Massachusetts State Senate for districts covering our region; incumbent Stephen Kulik held onto his State House seat. In ballot votes, Mass. residents struck down measures to expand the number of allowable casinos and charter schools. Additionally, following intense public debate, voters legalized recreational marijuana by a margin of 53.7 percent in favor, 46.3 percent against.

A lot has happened since then.

Amid scandal triggered by Rosenberg’s estranged husband, Byron Hefner, for example, the former State Senate president stepped down in 2017. A year later, MGM Casino opened its doors in Springfield. President Trump began setting tariffs on China a short while later, sparking the ongoing trade war. Kulik retired from public office in 2018 and has since been replaced by Rep. Natalie M. Blais. More recently, Congress leveled impeachment articles against the president last December — a process that’s ongoing.

Four years on, at the precipice of another presidential election, it feels like we’re living in a different world — as if everything has changed.

Well, almost everything.

There’s one particular matter that isn’t moving quite so quickly: The licensing of marijuana facilities by the state.

Yes, a number of retail marijuana shops have been approved and/or opened for business in the last several years, including Patriot Care Corp. in Greenfield and 253 Organic, LLC in Montague. But many other applicants, having received local approval, are stuck in limbo awaiting the state’s blessing. Of more than 300 businesses that have submitted applications for a license to cultivate and/or sell cannabis (costing upwards of $30,000), only 35 or so have been approved, according to the state’s Registered Marijuana Dispensary list.

It’s becoming a problem for small communities like Orange, which is banking on up to $500,000 (in addition to taxes) that will be brought in by Silver Therapeutics — one of two marijuana retailers and six manufacturers/growers the town has approved locally via Host Community Agreements and letters of non-opposition — through a 3 percent revenue agreement. But while retail pot shops in other towns have received state approval — in Northampton and Great Barrington, for example — Orange, which really needs the money, continues to wait.

“We voted for it. People are waiting for it. We need the income. Where the hell is it?” asked Orange Selectboard Vice-Chair Jane Peirce at a recent meeting. Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker agreed with Peirce’s perspective and said she has inquired about the licensing status of stores in Orange and has been told the state is licensing businesses in “batches.”

Locally, Silver Therapeutics received formal approval from Orange in the summer of 2018 and initially eyed a fall opening. Because of red tape, however, the opening was pushed back to last winter. Now, with more delays looming, it’s slated to open at the end of this winter. Notably, the other marijuana facilities, which have also been approved by the town, are even further behind schedule in the state’s licensure process, with no visible end in sight. Elsewhere in the state, Silver Therapeutics opened a store in Williamstown last April. That facility has already served over 50,000 customers from 63 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, according to the company’s chief financial officer, Brendan McKee.

Meanwhile, Orange has struggled financially with budget cuts; a proposed tax override that was brought forward by town officials to balance the budget failed a town-wide vote last year.

“Someone’s deciding who’s in the batch … Great Barrington does not need the marijuana money as much as Orange does,” Peirce said. Great Barrington received around $1 million in the first six months of having a retail marijuana outlet, according to Peirce.

“We need that money, and I want to know why the state is not moving to give us permits,” she said. “It feels like discrimination. It feels like an environmental justice issue, that they’re assisting more affluent communities before they’re helping us to site these businesses.”

We, also, would like to know why more permits haven’t been issued — especially to businesses that want to invest in disadvantaged communities like Orange.

Host communities aren’t the only ones being impacted. The last two meetings of the Cannabis Control Commission, a state entity that oversees the licensing process, were interrupted by disgruntled applicants protesting the slow approval process, according to reports.

Unfortunately, municipal officials in small towns like Orange haven’t yet been able to fix the problem (and not for lack of trying). Selectboard member Bill Wrigley said he thinks the issue is “political” and, as with most things, the larger, urban areas wield more influence on Beacon Hill. Regardless, at the recent meeting, Orange’s Selectboard resolved to lobby local legislators and write letters to state officials about the problem. By doing so, Wrigley said the town might speed up the process. One thing, however, is for certain — town officials throughout our region aren’t happy with the state’s cannabis licensing process so far. Neither are we.

The 2016 vote was definitive.

Four years is more than enough time to administer the will of the people. Our communities need this vital revenue stream.

It’s not just Orange that’s facing this challenge: Having received local approval in Deerfield, Harvest Inc. is currently waiting on the state’s blessing to open a facility on Mill Village Road. Historically, area legislators have been responsive to the region’s needs. If ever there was a time when Franklin County and North Quabbin towns needed strong representation in Boston, this is it.

In particular, we hope Orange’s representatives — Rep. Susannah Whipps and Sen. Joanne Comerford — will take notice and advocate on Beacon Hill to remedy this wrong.


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