Baker Signs Cannabis Reform, Limiting Fees Cities Charge; Law a Victory for Stem that Sued Haverhill

A security guard sits in front of Stem, 124 Washington St., Haverhill. (WHAV News file photograph.)

A court battle between Haverhill and a downtown cannabis shop may be moot now that Gov. Charlie Baker has signed legislation that requires communities to renegotiate “impact fees” in host agreements.

Besides forcing renegotiation of host community agreements, the bill creates a Social Equity Trust Fund which would pay for loans and grants aimed at supporting people of color and others “disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs” and move closer to social pot consumption sites. The bill was previously approved by both houses of the state legislature. It was supported by such local legislators as Sen. Diana DiZoglio and Reps. Linda Dean Campbell, Lenny Mirra, Andy X. Vargas and Christina A. Minicucci.

Caroline Pineau of Stem , 124 Washington St. (WHAV News file photograph.)

“Thanks to Gov. Baker for signing the cannabis reform bill. This new law addresses municipal extortion that has hampered small entrepreneurs and help social equity applicants move forward. This is really a big win for fairness and industry growth. Kudos to the governor,” said Caroline Pineau, CEO and owner of Stem in downtown Haverhill.

Stem filed suit against the City of Haverhill early last year, saying the adult-use cannabis shop should not pay “community impact” fees unless the city proves the added cost of hosting such businesses.

Asked by WHAV about how renegotiations will work, Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini responded “no comment.” He did say, however, CNS Stores on River Street and Full Harvest Moonz, Plaistow Road, have not complained about paying impact fees they originally negotiated. The mayor said he has not had a discussion with the newest shop, Mello on Amesbury Road.

Equitable Opportunities Now Co-Founder and Question 4 Co-Author Shanel Lindsay said in a statement, “This bill is an important step forward in undoing the harms of prohibition and over-policing and will provide an important path for families of color to create jobs in their community and generate generational wealth.”

Although unhappy about limits on host agreements, Fiorentini praised Baker’s veto of a portion of the bill that proposed to “remove obstacles that currently prevent students at public and private K-12 schools from possessing and consuming medical marijuana on school grounds.” Baker explained his “serious concerns” centered on “making it clear that the agencies charged with producing the study must identify ways to make medical marijuana widely available within schools, rather than considering whether such an allowance is advisable.”

Fiorentini called the school-related provision “absolutely outrageous.” He said community leaders around the state “urged the veto that would have made it easier to provide marijuana to children.”

On host agreements. Fiorentini told WHAV, “It gives a major tax break to the wealthy and politically powerful cannabis industry at the expense of the hardworking taxpayers of the cities and towns of the state.” He said communities agreed to host cannabis businesses “based on the promise they would receive substantial sums of money in taxes and impact fees. This legislation will undo that.”

“As the lawsuit in Haverhill, lawsuits in Gloucester and lawsuits in Uxbridge and other parts of the Commonwealth have proven that municipalities have gone beyond what their rights are…It’s always been that law since the law was passed that they could charge reasonably related fees to a licensed operator as a result of that licensed operator being in their community. No more. No less,” said David O’Brien, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association.

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