Back in Great Barrington, leaders think those jobs will help the local area: “From an economic point of view, legalizing marijuana will be extremely beneficial for the town,” says Ed Abrahams, vice-chairman of the Great Barrington Select Board. As the Pot Business Help in Reviving the State Ecomomy. “We already have four or five businesses that have told us they will employ locals. If these were toy stores, that would be the end of it, but because they are not toy stores, we also get a six percent tax on their revenues, which will be very beneficial for Great Barrington.”
However, others are skeptical of the potential economic benefits. “The marijuana industry is going to cost many more jobs than it creates,” says Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a nonpartisan interest group opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana. “First of all, there are multiple jobs that require drug tests, and there is going to be a huge issue of people not being able to pass them. It is going to hurt the poor the most, who are more often required to pass drug tests.”
Sabet also worries that any economic benefits will fall by the wayside under the social costs of legalization. “Before talking about funding things (with taxes from marijuana sales), let’s first talk about the cost of legalization, impaired driving costs, mental illness, school dropouts, accidents in the workplace, just to name a few.”
Some point to the potential social benefits. Legalizing recreational marijuana will decrease imprisonment rates for minor offenses, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) says. “For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders — especially for marijuana-related offenses — at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn-apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars,” he wrote in a Facebook postlast summer.
Booker has been vocal about legalizing recreational marijuana and has received support for his Marijuana Justice Act, which would rescind federal marijuana laws and let states decide whether to legalize the drug, from several Democratic senators and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
At the federal level, legislators want the freedom to implement their own policies regarding marijuana legalization in their states. “We are trying to take care of business in Massachusetts, in Colorado. We are trying to respect the voters of our states that said this is how we want to do business around marijuana. We just want the federal government to get out of the way and let them do it,” said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a press conference earlier this year about the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, a bill that would protect states that legalize marijuana, which she co-sponsored with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
Among the licensing policies in Massachusetts, the state requires recreational-marijuana shop owners to donate$10,000 to a local nonprofit dedicated to educating the population on marijuana. Educational materials need to be provided to customers, especially concerning keeping the products out of minors’ hands.
And to make sure that no one under 21 gets marijuana products in the stores, recreational marijuana stores in the state are required to have an extensive ID checking procedure as well as a double camera system covering the entire store at all times. “I am not expecting negative consequences from legalizing marijuana, because the state will closely monitor it,” Abrahams says.
In addition to a 6.25 percent state sales tax and a state “impact fee” that will be collected in the form of a 10.75 percent excise tax, local jurisdictions can add their own regulations to the commercialization of recreational marijuana. The town of Great Barrington decided to levy an additional 3 percent tax, and it requires applicants to hold a community outreach meeting to address the community’s concerns.
The Cannabis Control Commission recently asked local officials of several towns in Massachusetts to tone down their regulations, in order to not slow down the process and discourage marijuana retailers. However, the process already seems to be slow at the state level, says Farnsworth, who plans to open the “Highminded” store. “The state application for a license is pretty intensive in terms of background checks and checking financials and verifying sources of income,” he says. “I think that a lot of people will be weeded out at the state level.”