Amherst finalizes agreements with three retail pot companies

The businesses have entered host community agreements

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Amherst finalizes agreements with three retail pot companies

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Michael Connors, Assistant News Editor

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Three companies interested in selling retail marijuana in Amherst have reached final, five-year host community agreements with the town.

Mass Alternative Care, Inc. joins RISE Holdings, Inc. and Herbology Group, Inc. in securing an agreement with the town. Mass Alternative Care is eyeing opening their shop at 55 University Drive, Herbology at 422 Amity St. and RISE at their current medical marijuana facility at 169 Meadow St.

The most recent pact was signed between Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Springfield-based enterprise Mass Alternative Care, Inc. on Dec. 21, 2018, according to the host community agreement. Herbology finalized their deal with the town on Nov. 13, with RISE following soon after on Nov. 29.

“Host community agreements are an essential step to becoming a cannabis retailer,” said Geoff Kravitz, Amherst’s economic development director. According to Kravitz, no business can apply to the state Cannabis Control Commission for a final retail license without it.

“Without [a host community agreement] the state won’t accept an application,” Kravitz said. “So, in some sense, this is the first step marijuana establishments have to take in order to get licensed. “

The host community agreement includes terms and conditions the town and budding marijuana retailers must abide by. Though they were signed on different days, Amherst’s three agreements are identical.

Citing the young median age of Amherst residents, the host community agreements require the three businesses to donate at least $20,000 a year to town education programs in order “to promote safe, legal and responsible use.”

The agreements also require that the businesses pay the town an “Annual Community Impact Fee,” amounting to three percent of gross revenue from marijuana sales. The fee will be paid quarterly every January, April, July and October of the year. According to the host community agreement, the money will be used toward increased law enforcement at the facility, fire protection services and “unforeseen impacts upon the Town,” among others.

“It reimburses the town with costs associated with the marijuana establishment,” Kravitz said, noting this fee is separate from a three percent, optional local tax that Amherst adopted on sales.

Even though the three companies have the green light from the town to apply for a state license, the companies must appear in front of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit.

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Mass Alternative Care had already received a special permit in June 2016 for a potential medical marijuana establishment. But all three companies must appear again for a special permit regarding recreational sales, Kravitz said.

Kravitz is uncertain whether marijuana retailers and the town will have to renew their host community agreement after five years, but added that, by law, the impact fee must be renegotiated every five years.

“It’s a little unclear, and our understanding, and what our attorney’s told us, is that they should be renegotiated and should be ongoing, but we probably won’t know that for another four or five years,” Kravitz said. “Whether or not they are required for a business to keep operating, I think the legislation is fairly clear. At least it was originally, when it said ‘you need a host community agreement in order to begin or continue operations.’”

“I think the whole thing will likely be renegotiated,” Kravitz added.

RISE Holdings will appear before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall, located at 4 Boltwood Ave.

Michael Connors can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mikepconnors.