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Date: 2023-01-09 15:15:16
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A proposed cap on the number of cannabis dispensaries in Northampton is on the agenda of a City Council subcommittee Monday night as local leaders mull over its possible effects and consider whether the recent closure of one pot shop makes a mandated limit unnecessary.
An ordinance up for debate would limit the city to a dozen marijuana dispensaries, with some exceptions. If passed by the full city council, it would represent the first time the city has limited the number of cannabis retailers it allows to do business.
In Nov. 2018, the Northampton dispensary NETA became one of the first locations to legally buy recreational cannabis in Massachusetts. The city’s retail pot market ballooned in the years following as local entrepreneurs and out-of-state companies sought a piece of the action in a city expected to be friendly to the cannabis industry.
At its peak this past summer, Northampton was home to 12 dispensaries, the majority clustered within blocks of each other at the city center. But in December, one of the most recent additions to the local cannabis scene shuttered after less than a year of business. The Source, a downtown dispensary on Pleasant Street that opened in March, closed its doors on Dec. 16.
Months before then, city councilors began discussing the possibility of a cap on retail cannabis shops.
Amid the intense competition between neighboring dispensaries, and with a 13th shop proposed (though it was ultimately rejected by the city), councilors asked whether a limit could benefit both local residents and the existing cannabis businesses.
An ordinance proposed on Dec. 15 by three city councilors set the city’s “upper limit” on marijuana retailers at 12.
The ordinance carves out exceptions for proposed businesses that have already signed leases on retail spaces and for social equity applicants — business owners from communities most affected by the War on Drugs, who now receive free training and assistance from the state to help them enter the cannabis industry.
The city council’s Legislative Matters subcommittee will review the ordinance during a meeting Monday night, scheduled for 5 p.m. It will include a public comment period.
After the subcommittee delivers its recommendation on the ordinance Monday night, it could be voted on by the full city council on Jan. 19.
In an email newsletter to constituents, Councilor Alex Jarrett (Ward 5) — the subcommittee chair — said he had several lingering questions entering Monday night’s meeting.
“If we’ve reached market saturation, is there a need for a cap?” Jarrett wrote. He also questioned if the pending arrival of on-site cannabis consumption — which would allow the use of the drug inside a business that sells it — would increase the size of the local market.
Jarrett also wondered if a limit on dispensaries could fuel a pricey secondary market, similar to the one that exists for alcohol licenses.
Northampton, unlike many other towns, has never limited the number of dispensaries it allows.
In 2018, two councilors proposed a 10-business cap — though one said at the time that he thought it was “very unlikely” that Northampton would need such a limit. The measure did not pass.