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There’s a Lot to Like

November 26, 2018

about pot sales, right?

State and municipal officials are probably glowing after seeing the public’s excitement to spend money on recreational marijuana.

Yes, the state’s first two licensed dispensaries opened to great fanfare last Tuesday in Northampton and Leicester. Customers waited in line for up to eight hours to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana ($420) -- the maximum amount allowed -- and single rolled joints ($19) among other products such as chewables, massage lotion, brownies, etc.

On the first day, the two dispensaries rang up combined sales of $440,000 from about 3,000 customers who paid a 20 percent tax on more than 10,400 purchases.

Naturally, it’s the tax revenue that intrigues government officials. The 20 percent tax on marijuana products breaks down as follows:

* 6.25 state sales tax;

* 10.75 percent state excise tax;

* 3 percent local tax.

So, anyone who wanted to purchase a full ounce of Bubba Kush ($420) -- one of 16 marijuana strains offered at Northampton’s New England Treatment Access -- would pay $84 in taxes.

(Actually, because customer demand was so high, NETA owners limited purchases to an eighth of an ounce per customer for fear of running out of stock. There was no known limit imposed at the Leicester dispensary outside of the one-ounce state law mandate.)

The anticipated rush to recreational pot sales proved prescient. State budget officials projected all licensed facilities to generate $63 million in new tax revenues in fiscal year 2019, although that figure is unlikely to happen. The rollout schedule is four months behind and a number of dispensaries are still awaiting final approval.

But fear not. Judging by the pent-up demand, it appears that Massachusetts recreational pot users will be ringing up cash registers (state law requires cash sales only) across the state as new facilities open their doors to the public.

It’s good to note that police reported no issues at the Northampton and Leicester pot shops. While we hope it continues, we remain skeptical of the entire recreational pot enterprise.

No doubt the owners, investors and government entities will make money, but what will be the cost to public safety and the workplace?

The prices charged and taxes levied for recreational products will sow the seeds for a robust black market being planted in Massachusetts and New England.

Also, people granted a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana do not have to pay taxes on their purchases. It’s a system ripe for abuse. Here’s a question for authorities: One year from today, do you think there will be an increase in the number of people who have received medical pot licenses or a decrease? Because of federal HIPAA laws, the public might never get to know the answer. We can only imagine how many private sector and government workers will be marijuana medicated while on the job.

Pot sales are here to stay. The problems are yet to emerge.

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