Lanesborough Irons Out Local Process For Marijuana Companies
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The town will soon be closed off to new prospective marijuana retailers but that could change in two years.
The Board of Selectmen solidified its process for approving community host agreements on Monday, a requirement for a potential company to seek state permits. The town has limited the number of retailers to two and has one host agreement approved and another one in the works.
The board agreed on Monday not to allow any more host agreements but are requiring the next agreement to include a provision that the project must be done within two years.
The process came under question after the board agreed to engage with two retailers but neither has a state permit to operate yet and now a third has been asking about the process. The town limits only retailers but there is an unlimited number of possibilities for those seeking cultivation or manufacturing licenses.
In some towns, numerous host agreements have been approved and whichever company gets a state license first can operate. The Selectmen, however, felt that was unfair to a business that has to secure and pay for a property to even be considered for the state license. The state process is estimated to take at least a year, meaning a company has to pay on a property for that long and the board didn't want that to happen just to end up being cut off from operation because of the town's limit.
"We don't know who is going to get them or when," Town Manager Kelli Robbins told the board of the state's process, saying someone approved later by the town could feasibly just ahead in the timeline to receive a permit.
Robbins said she'd prefer a first come, first serve type option for the host agreements because of that time companies have to wait.
Mark Jarvis and Ezra Parzybok are consultants with Greenglove. They said the projections of the industry show it to be lucrative early but then fade. They said while there is a push among businesses to get in the industry quickly, many towns are doing the same to get the tax revenue by approving as many host agreements as possible to maximize the chances of having one open sooner rather than later.
Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers shared the same concern. He didn't want to approve a host agreement and have it go unused. Sayers advocated for a two-year time frame for a company to get a state licenses in place so that if by then a project clearly isn't feasible, somebody else could get a shot. Sayers had pushed for a tighter time frame of 18 months but agreed to two years with the rest of the board.
There is long-term merit in being more selective.
"The more local companies are quite possibly going to contribute the most consistently," Jarvis said. "The battle is about market share."
Another option would be to set up a competitive program. That would allow multiple companies to provide presentations and have the Board of Selectmen opt to choose one company or the other to give their blessing too. That, however, wouldn't be feasible at this point given that the cap in Lanesborough is basically met.
Jarvis added that a competitive request for proposals process could put small mom-and-pop type shops at a further disadvantage — arguing that the state has already made it difficult for small shops to get permits. with an RFP process, Jarvis said the big corporations will be able to win those battles by investing more in architects and consultants to wow the board. But yet, projections show that the small locally-based shops will likely last longer.
Jarvis would later outline state provisions around diversity, positive impact, and equity plans as putting smaller businesses at a disadvantage.
"This is fine if you are a large, well-financed company. If you are a mom-and-pop operation, it is tough stuff," he said, adding that it leads to small businesses contracting with consultants like him and Parzybok. "The regulations are so stringent that it is tough for people to get across many of these hurdles."
The state required such plans to focus the industry on reversing disproportionate damage done to communities through the war on drugs. Jarvis said if a company does get a state approval then it will have a strong civic plan, thus not something the Selectmen would need to worry about in judging various proposals.
The board had previously given its OK for Liberty Market, headed by Ken Crowley and Paul Bohannon, to open a small retail shop on Main Street — the plaza where subway used to be located. That company is already being reviewed by the state. Jarvis and Parzybok first consulted with that company on navigating the process.
Since then Lev Kelman, owner of Brooklyn Dark, is now navigating the process to open a THC-infused chocolate manufacturing and retail operation at the former Arizona Pizza on Cheshire Road as Royal Hemp LLC. His community outreach meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, he's paid the administrative fee, and the town's attorney is in the middle of crafting an agreement. Robbins said a third potential retailer has contacted her office about operating a business on North Main Street.
Jarvis and Parzybok were contacted by both other retailers asking for advice but Parzybok said he needed clarification from the town on its process first. The pair attended Monday's hearing to do just that, essentially representing all three potential marijuana retailers.
"It takes about four months for this team to read through your application," Parzybok explained the Selectmen about the state's process, estimating the entire permitting to take about a year.
Parzybok suggested potentially approving a third host agreement with full notice to the developer up front that they could be the odd-man out. That would at least allow a company to begin the process just in case one of the other two are not approved.
Part of the conversation among the board was driven by Royal Hemp's plan for Arizona Pizza. Kelman had gotten the board's approval for the business to operate in the Berkshire Mall but that location fell through. He then found and secured a purchase-and-sales agreement for the Cheshire Road location. He called the Town Hall and asked about the next steps. The former restaurant is zoned to have marijuana retail by right — meaning no special permits are needed — and he was told the next steps were to pay the administrative fee for a host agreement and schedule a community outreach meeting.
"He has a location. He is in business. It is a by-right location. He doesn't need any zoning provisions," Robbins said.
Sayers, however, said he'd liked to have had another meeting about it before a host agreement was crafted. Sayers considered asking him to start the process over, even though money had already been spent to get to that point.
Chairman John Goerlach, however, disagreed, saying Kelman shouldn't be punished because the town didn't have a policy requiring him to come back. Goerlach said he would have liked somebody at town hall to have had him return to the board. But there was nothing requiring that so nobody knew that's what the board would have wanted.
"He is in a by-right location so I don't think we should say anything," Goerlach said.
Nonetheless, any potential business seeking a marijuana operation — retail, cultivation, or manufacturing — are now being asked to come to the board with exactly what it is planning before taking the next steps. Robbins added that she has also been pushing for companies to put their plans down on paper so there is no confusion.
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