This year, Dennis, Fairhaven and Franklin all filed legislation to charge a local tax on medical marijuana in hopes of generating revenue to manage the “burden,” as one town official put it, of having a dispensary or pot-growing center in town.
The bills met an end in the Joint Committee on Revenue, chaired by Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, and Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, where lawmakers decided to put all three on hold for further study.
Now, local proponents, including state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, and Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, say they intend to return to the drawing board to craft legislation that has a shot at passing.
But doing so will prove difficult, as lawmakers said such a measure would likely require revisions to the state’s tax code.
The state Department of Public Health has not taken a position on taxing medical marijuana. Dispensary owners pay $50,000 per year to renew their licenses, while patients will drop $50 annually to maintain their prescriptions.
However, the state Department of Revenue has said that a municipality could charge a local sales tax as long as it receives approval from the Legislature. But it’s rare to see a city or town petition for specific taxes.
“Typically a local option to charge a tax is granted by the Legislature on a blanket or individual basis and the municipality then chooses to opt in or request permission – whatever is required — to charge a tax on a local basis,” said Maryann Merigan, a DOR spokeswoman.
Efforts to reach multiple lawmakers on the Revenue Committee to learn their reasons for killing the bills were unsuccessful.
While it has not reviewed the legislation filed so far, the Massachusetts Municipal Association has vowed to support the local effort to tax medical marijuana.
“We do strongly advocate to the state Legislature that the commonwealth should give great deference to requests made by municipalities for measures that would enable them to offset their cost, especially for state programs,” said the association’s executive director, Geoffrey Beckwith.
Beckwith pointed out that the dispensaries are nonprofit and so do not appear on the tax rolls. With that in mind, he said cities and towns should be granted the right to “negotiate payment in lieu of tax agreements or have a local revenue measure to offset the costs to monitor compliance.”
The legislation Franklin submitted would have authorized a 5-percent local sales tax. Town officials hoped to use the extra tax money to hire more police to patrol the area where a medical marijuana company plans to open a 70,000-square-foot growing center to supply dispensaries in Brookline and Northampton.