The Codcast: The marijuana blame game

July 1 has come and gone and no one legally bought marijuana in Massachusetts. Plenty of people bought illegal marijuana and legally smoked it, sort of a “don’t ask/don’t tell” situation.

But the date viewed by many as a launch for retail recreational sales is now looking like the end of the summer, almost two years after voters approved a statewide referendum legalizing adult use. James Smith, a former state representative who championed legal weed back in the 1970s and now is an attorney representing the nascent industry, says the cause of the delay lays squarely with cities and towns who are dragging their feet on zoning and host agreements if they haven’t enacted bans and moratoriums.

“Parochialism, puritanicalism,” said Smith, who, along with Jennifer Flanagan of the state Cannabis Control Commission joined The Codcast to talk about the slow rollout of the law. “The statute and our history gives an awful lot of power to our communities…It’s as if we’re trying to site a nuclear waste dump downtown.”

Flanagan, a former state representative and senator who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Charlie Baker, acknowledged communities have the final word on stores and other facilities opening in their midst but said it’s more a lack of education than overt resistance that has been causing the delays.

“There’s a lot of questions by people serving in town government,” said Flanagan, who voted against the referendum before joining the board. “Some are really trying to get it down. This is a really big industry that will have an impact for years to come.”

Smith, who has been negotiating host agreements with communities for his firm’s clients, said some cities and towns are looking to extract more than the statutorily allowed 3 percent local tax and 3 percent cost mitigation agreement and that is hampering some companies’ abilities to open facilities. He said the demands are akin to shakedowns because there’s relatively little cost for the town associated with opening these kinds of stores, no more than a convenience store or a liquor store.

“We’re running into that everywhere; they want 4 percent, they want side deals,” said Smith.

Flanagan said the commission has heard about the higher demands but says there’s nothing they can do about it. They don’t see the agreements, only notice that one is reached as required by law. But, she said, the anecdotes concern her.

“I think there are some cities and towns that need more education,” she said. “It causes me concern that people are trying to milk the system for more money.”

Both Flanagan and Smith said the impact on communities of a ruling by Attorney General Maura Healey allowing Mansfield to extend its moratorium until next June will have minimal impact. They agreed the ruling was narrowly focused on Mansfield and unlikely to have a wider application.

“Mansfield might have been a unique situation,” Smith said.

Flanagan refused to put a date on when the retail industry will get rolling. She said the July 1 target date was not set in statute but turned into an “end-all-be-all date” among advocates and the media. And while she insists cities and towns aren’t purposefully hampering the implementation, she acknowledged the commission can only do so much. She said the commission doesn’t even know the exact number of cities and towns with bans and moratoriums.

“They don’t have to answer to us,” she said.

Smith, though, said they do have to answer to the voters, who spoke loud and clear in 2016.

“They might have one or two by Labor Day, maybe a half dozen by the end of the year, then it should start flowing but it’s going a lot slower than anyone thought,” he said. “The majority of us voted for it, the majority of us should have access to it.”



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