Pot tax revamp sparks debate



LYNN — A proposal on Beacon Hill to give local officials the right to veto recreational marijuana clinics and boost the tax rate on pot is getting mixed reviews.

The measure, which is expected to go before the House of Representatives next week calls for a 28 percent tax rate on marijuana sales, up from the 12 percent prescribed by the ballot law. That includes the 6.25 percent sales tax, a 16.75 percent excise tax and a 5 percent tax to be returned to the community where pot was sold.

The bill would also allow the governing body in a municipality, such as a city council or the board of selectmen, to ban pot sales rather than require a referendum, as required under the ballot law.

“The way the city’s budget is now, I am open to anything,” said City Council President Darren Cyr. “I won’t say 28 percent is not ridiculous, but the city where it’s sold should benefit. As far as local control, I always feel the location of these shops should not be dictated by the state or anyone else.”

But City Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton disagrees. He said elected officials should respect the wishes of the voters.

“People voted for recreational marijuana and a specific tax rate, so how do you go against it,” he said.

City Councilor-at-Large Hong Net said he is split on the proposal. While he supports the higher tax rate as proposed by the House, he rejects local control.  

“The voters approved the measure to allow these stores to open where they choose,” he said.  “I don’t think we should go against the voters.”

City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said while he was supportive of medical marijuana, he is opposed to recreational pot and prefers local control.  

“I do like the higher tax rate, but Lynn does not need any more places to sell marijuana,” he said.

Last year, the City Council selected a pair of retailers to sell medical marijuana in the city. Newton-based Massachusetts Patient Foundation plans to operate a facility on the Lynnway and Old World Remedies of Marblehead is slated to open a shop at Western Avenue.

Phil Crawford, chairman of the Lynnfield Board of Selectmen, said voters in town have already voted thumbs-down on recreational pot. Last fall, voters rejected pot shops at the ballot box and later at Town Meeting. 

“We have already spoken on this so the tax rate is irrelevant to us,” he said. “It just goes to show how unprepared the state was to take this on.”

A spokesman for Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said the mayor would like to see the final House version of the measure before offering an opinion.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy could not be reached for comment.

State Rep. and City Councilor-at-Large Daniel Cahill declined comment.

The House proposal is expected to receive a chilly reception in the Senate.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, (D-Somerville), told State House News Service that voters should be able to trust the Legislature not to more than double the tax rate that they voted for.  She also said a high tax rate would encourage buyers to seek pot from black market dealers.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]



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