Pot board high on Worcester
Cannabis commission to locate main office in central Mass.
THE STATE BOARD regulating the legal marijuana industry will set up permanent shop in Worcester as its headquarters with a satellite office in Boston.
The five-member Cannabis Control Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to seek a 13,000-square foot office space in the state’s second largest city and find a smaller, 5,000-square foot office in the state capital, becoming the first state agency to have its main office in Worcester.
“We have a satellite office that will allow people to access it by public transportation,” said commission chairman Steven Hoffman, dismissing concerns that having the office in Worcester would be a hardship for some people. “Also, Worcester is one of the communities that has been disproportionately impacted [by marijuana use] and that was not irrelevant in our thinking… There are disproportionately impacted communities all over the state, not just in Boston.”
“Having a location really in the central part of the state will allow us to get to every corner of the Commonwealth with relative ease and I think also there are cost efficiencies with being out in central Massachusetts,” Collins told reporters.
The board, which is currently housed in a Financial District office building on the same floor as the state Gaming Commission and shares its public hearing room, had initially confined its search to inside I-495 with the focus on several communities north and south of Boston as well as Boston itself. Worcester was added at the behest of Commission Jennifer Flanagan, a former state senator from Leominster whose district included several communities in Worcester County.
Worcester has been more welcoming to the retail marijuana industry than many communities around the state, passing zoning regulations that will allow as many as 15 pot store in the city’s business, industrial, and manufacturing districts. The city pulls in about $1 million a year in payments through host agreements for medical marijuana dispensaries and officials think retail will add even more plus the ancillary impact of the commission’s main office being located there.
City Manager Edward Augustus said the community’s acceptance of the marijuana industry likely had an effect on the commission’s decision.
“It would probably have been very awkward if we were one of those places that banned [retail marijuana],” he said. “Our approach has been it’s the will of the voters. We wanted to try to prevent any unintended consequences and then reap the benefits of an emerging industry which will create some jobs, create some benefits.”
Augustus said the decision to come to Worcester will put the agency in a central location that is easily accessible from the east by car or train and half the distance to Boston from those coming from western Massachusetts.
He said it would be “my strong suggestion” that the commission consider leasing an office in the city-owned Union Station, the one-time abandoned rail station that has been renovated into retail and office space. He said the location would be right above the train platforms and just off Interstate-290 with parking available below. He also pointed out it is a short walk to the growing downtown area.
Timothy Murray, the former lieutenant governor who now heads the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the commission’s decision to put a stake down in the city could open the door for other state agencies to follow. He said the cheaper rents coupled with increasingly convenient transportation modes such as commuter rail make it an attractive and cost-saving destination for the biggest renter in Massachusetts.
“It is certainly something we’re very happy about,” Murray said. “There are significant savings the Commonwealth could realize by expanding their universe. It’s a benefit to a lot of Gateway Cities as well. I think it’s hopefully the beginning of a growing awareness.”
In other commission business, Collins reported that on Monday, the first day the commission could legally accept applications, there were 274 accounts created, the first step in submitting an application. Collins said the site was also flooded with more than 10,400 visitors but the new software program experienced no problems.
“We went live at 12 o’clock on the dot. We performed significant tests over the weekend,” Collins told commissioners, adding there were “no blips, no stress” throughout the first day.
The commission also voted to rewrite its advisories about the number of retail establishments municipalities must allow unless the community voted to ban or restrict them. By law, a city or town must allow a number equal to 20 percent of liquor store licenses in the community. If, for instance, a town has 20 package stores, it must grant at least four retail permits unless voters or, if the town rejected the statewide referendum, city council or Town Meeting, enacted restrictions on the number of establishments.Under Doyle’s proposal, which was approved unanimously, the municipality must round up if the math yields a fractional amount of retail licenses. If there are, for instance, 11 liquor licenses in a community, 20 percent would be 2.2 so officials would have to round up to three. If a community has fewer than five liquor licenses, the municipality must grant at least one retail marijuana license.
“It’s come up a lot and we wanted to give some guidance,” Doyle said after the meeting, referring to the math on retail licenses. She said she was not worried that the guidance would push communities to ban retail sales. “They don’t even need to go to a ban necessarily. If [the number] is higher than their comfort level, they can enact restrictions on the number through the proper vote,” she said.