Cannabis sales are benefitting our communities

Towns that resisted marijuana may want to reconsider

AS THE TRADITIONAL July 1 deadline for Massachusetts to finalize its annual budget passed without action, we continue to wonder when we will see a reversal of the significant economic downturn and high unemployment driven by COVID-19. Behind this impasse is the uncertainty of how much of a tax revenue shortfall we are facing, though one projection puts the gap at an estimated $6 billion, or nearly 15 percent of the entire annual budget. Unemployment, meanwhile, is the highest in the nation – 16.1 percent in July and 17.4 percent in June,

And if this reality was not bleak enough, we can’t help but remain concerned about the prospects of another economic shutdown, especially as we see the number of new COVID-19 cases surge around the country.

In my community of Easthampton, Main Street businesses—those still open and struggling—will have a hard time surviving a second wave. As stewards of our communities, we can’t wait for state or federal relief. We must act with the limited resources we have to create new economic opportunities and lessen burdens on our residents. Regulated cannabis represents one of those opportunities in our control.

I have experienced firsthand the value of hosting adult-use cannabis operators and the positive impacts they’ve brought to my community. Easthampton has received nearly $790,000 from taxes on local adult-use sales in the first year. Not to mention the more than 60 local, living-wage jobs created.

However, with Massachusetts being the lone state to close adult-use cannabis stores during the shutdown, many communities saw an unfortunate interruption to these revenue streams when they were needed most. According to Cannabis Control Commission data, the industry amassed approximately $50 million in gross sales just in the month since re-opening. Because of the 20 percent state and local retail and excise taxes on cannabis sales, $10 million of that will go directly to the Commonwealth and host communities like Easthampton during these needed times.

If those numbers sound appealing, you are not alone. In April, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lynn Lujan Grisham expressed regret over the absence of legalized adult-use cannabis and the millions it would have brought to her state’s coffers. This revelation speaks to what I and many of my peers have recognized: adult-use cannabis sales benefit our communities.

Such a declaration may seem provocative, but it reflects my experience with the professionalism and thoughtfulness of individuals that make up the industry, epitomized by the way in which they stood up to support our communities and frontline healthcare workers by manufacturing thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer for donation to Massachusetts hospitals and the hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to local relief efforts across the Commonwealth.

But these things don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen when communities make smart policy and planning choices to welcome these entrepreneurs—companies who invest deeply (often tens of millions) in their sites and communities well before earning a dollar of revenue.

Of course, being a good corporate citizen alone is not a compelling argument to keep the doors open in the face of a pandemic. The capability to operate without undermining public health should be the most critical component of assessing that decision.

While having the distinct honor of serving on the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, I listened to the cannabis industry’s largest trade group, the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, articulate a thorough plan for re-opening stores responsibly using national best practices. I came away impressed and confident that these shops could safely serve customers, which, based on my own experience, is exactly what they have done since Memorial Day.

Meet the Author
Across Massachusetts, local and state leaders are mapping out budgets with fewer resources than anticipated, meaning difficult cuts will be made or at least contemplated. These cuts represent more than line items, they are services that enhance residents’ quality of life. Although these may be unavoidable, we can help prevent further cuts by maintaining the revenue stream of adult-use cannabis. For those who’ve resisted welcoming cannabis businesses in your municipality, consider the sentiments of Gov. Lujan Grisham. And if that isn’t enough, I certainly welcome my colleagues to visit Easthampton to see how, I believe, we have done it right.

Nicole LaChapelle is the mayor of Easthampton.