More than 3 years after residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana, the Cambridge City Council will soon vote on a zoning petition that would make possible the establishment of the city’s first registered dispensary The zoning has been under consideration for months, and a well-qualified applicant stands ready to lease space. But at the 11th hour Councillor Craig Kelley (who has expressed doubts about the zoning) is now asking the city to consider negotiating a “community host benefit agreement” with the applicant, which could include payments similar to those imposed by Worcester, Salem and Brockton. For example Worcester requires its dispensary to make a “donation” to the city of $100K in Year 1, $150K in Year 2 and $200K in Year 3; plus an annual payment 1.5%-2.5% of gross revenues; plus a $10K annual guft to a charity in the “immediate vicinity” of the dispensary. Salem asks for at least $50K a year and Brockton at least $100K a year from their dispensaries.
I have some qualms about requiring monetary compensation as a condition of operating a clinic that already must meet the very high licensing and zoning standards imposed by the state and the city. There is no evidence that a medical marijuana dispensary would have a uniquely detrimental impact on the community. It’s important to know that every MMD is required by state law to be incorporated as a non-profit and that any revenues must be used “solely in furtherance of its nonprofit status.” Applicants are required to pay $31,500 in fees to the state and are subject to a strict review process, background checks (with additional fees), and there is a limit to the number of dispensaries an applicant may register (up to 3). Any clinic would have very strict security measures — only a patient carrying a state-issued medial marijuana card may enter the premises and the product is displayed in locked cabinets under video surveillance. Many of the patients have debilitating diseases that require pain relief so the risk to public safety seems slight. Like other prescription medicines, medical marijuana is not subject to the state sales tax.
Many questions come to mind. Would the payments increase the price patients pay for this medicine? If such payment are justified, what amount is reasonable in light of uncertain projections for gross revenues? Are such payments politically motivated and intended to appease the minority of residents who opposed legalizing medical marijuana? Should we instead seek other community benefits, such as hiring preferences Cambridge residents and voluntary contributions to community organizations?
What do you think the right approach is? I’d appreciate hearing your perspective. Please comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA