The rollout of recreational cannabis sales in Massachusetts has run into a stumbling block as over 100 local municipalities have voted not to allow canna-businesses in their jurisdictions. Cannabis advocacy groups have pointed out that although these municipalities will not be supporting the state's cannabis industry, they will be receiving equal shares of the expected $150 million or more in cannabis sales tax revenue.
To level the playing field, advocates are pushing for a new bill that would reduce the amount of cannabis revenue that is funneled to areas that have banned local canna-businesses. Next January, the Mass. Recreational Consumer Council plans to work with state legislators to introduce a bill that would reduce state payouts to municipalities that have prohibited cannabis by an amount equivalent to the area's share of cannabis tax revenue.
“Municipalities shouldn’t be entitled to something they took no part in,” Kamani Jefferson, head of the MRCC, said. The proposal “would force their hand and really encourage them to let these businesses in.” The current law allows municipalities to collect a 3% tax on retail pot sales while also taking a 3% cut of each local cannabis company's revenue, but Jefferson said that this alone is not enough incentive to prevent local governments from banning cannabis.
Both proponents and opponents of the proposed legislation agree that it would be extremely difficult to actively implement the bill if passed. “This is punitive, wildly impractical, and impossible to implement,” said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “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.”
State financial officials have said that calculating the exact amount of cannabis tax revenue that each municipality receives would be extremely difficult, as each local government receives state funds through a large number of channels. State law also mandates that cannabis tax revenue must fund the Cannabis Control Commission as well as other state agencies overseeing cannabis. Additional revenue is earmarked for public health programs such as addiction counseling and police training, programs which legislators would be unlikely to defund.
“I’m not sure it’s workable, but I like the sentiment behind it,” said Jim Borghesani, who advocated for the ballot measure to legalize cannabis in the state last year. “Why should towns that vote to keep criminals in control of marijuana commerce and keep unsafe, untested product on the streets not experience repercussions?”