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Weed Taxes Roll In To Massachusetts Cities And Towns

Massachusetts cities and towns with marijuana businesses are getting revenue from a three percent tax on retail pot sales.

The top cannabis tax earner in western Massachusetts from February to April is Northampton, pulling in more than $530,000. Great Barrington was next in line with nearly $226,000. Easthampton received just over $163,000, and Pittsfield got more than $85,000.

Northampton mayor David Narkewicz said he has "been trying to dampen expectations" about the amount of tax revenue that will come in long term.

"I'm trying to caution people that it's not going to solve all of our financial woes, and that in the early going, it's going to be challenging to budget for the future without having a few more quarters," he said.

A cannabis plant on a display screen at New England Treatment Access in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Credit Steven Senne / Masslive / Masslive.com/photos
Masslive / Masslive.com/photos
A cannabis plant on a display screen at New England Treatment Access in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Northampton budgeted $1.2 million from pot taxes for its fiscal year 2020 budget, which started July 1.

Narkewicz said it was a conservative estimate. 

"It goes right into our general operating fund dollars," he said. "Just like the meals tax. Just like the hotel motel tax. Just like property tax. And then we make decisions about how to spend it based on the overall budget."

Pittsfield plans to put half of its marijuana money into a stabilization fund, used for emergencies, and can help improve the city's bond rating. The rest will go into the city's general fund, but it's not earmarked for anything specific.

But residents have lots of ideas about how to spend the marijuana tax revenues.

Pittsfield resident Rodney Jones sat at a bus stop taking a break between his day job, working at a factory and a night job, cleaning a school. He'd like to see the taxes from marijuana go to repair potholes and parks.

"They're pretty beat up now from wear and tear," Jones said. "Some of the playground fixtures — they're really loose from kids playing on them constantly."

Another Pittsfield resident, Hyson Williams, is also thinking of children.

"Like entertainment or recreational stuff for the kids," Williams said. "Things like — they could play chess, like games. Or learning stuff."

Jessica Nerrie, who has a 13-year-old son and is living on disability, would like to see the money help low income residents and the homeless.

"A lot of money should be spent on shelters, on more food," Nerrie said.

Adam Ingenito pulled a red wagon down North Street in Pittsfield with his three-year-old son Antonio. Ingenito said it's too early to know what to spend the pot tax revenues on until the city has a better idea of how much it will get on a regular basis.

“You can't count your chickens before they hatch,” Ingenito said. “I think you should build up an account, see where the needs are and then determine. I think to try to determine now where they're going to use the money is a little premature.”

The cash drawer at INSA in Easthampton, Massachusetts, in a file photo.
Credit Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPR
The cash drawer at INSA in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle agrees. She doesn't want tax revenues to go into a recurring budget line until she knows how much to expect.

Easthampton residents also have ideas on how to spend the money, such as tax abatement for seniors, or help for first-time home buyers.

LaChapelle said people think of pot taxes as exciting.

“It's really kind of a sexy tax,” LaChapelle said. “Down the road, it will be put to an unsexy expenditure, like retirement or health care. And that's fine by me. A dollar is a dollar.”

This tax money from fiscal year 2019 is not yet slated in most municipal budgets. In some cases, it'll be used for unanticipated, one-time expenses, such as snow removal.

Not exactly sexy.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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