Latest Pot News Big Buzzkill in Dracut

By: Brian Genest

There’s plenty of weed news wafting out of Dracut Town Hall these days; and most of it stinks. If you’re a town taxpayer, try not to let the latest mind-numbing developments destroy your faith in the man, man…

At their December meeting, Town Attorney James Hall told members of the board of selectmen there are problems with Dracut’s host community agreements with pot-related businesses, as well as spending restrictions on the 3% tax the town will collect on retail marijuana sales. Talk about a downer!

Hall said former Town Manager James Duggan had signed six host community agreements with marijuana-related businesses before his departure, but hadn’t brought them to the board for approval, as required by the terms of those agreements.

“I don’t know what happened. I don’t even want to conject,” Hall answered when Selectman Tami Dristiliaris asked how the agreements had slipped through the cracks.

As a result of the screwup, selectmen delayed a vote on a special permit for Lazy River Products LLC, which plans to open a facility for marijuana production and retail sales at 145 Broadway Road. The company was before the board to amend the permit that selectmen approved last July.

In case you’ve missed it, weed is already turning out to be quite a trip in Dracut. Town meeting voters narrowly rejected a marijuana moratorium in 2017, blazing the trail for retail marijuana sales in town. The temporary ban would have included dispensing, processing and cultivation activities, as well as the sale, storage and distribution of marijuana for non-medical use.

In 2018, town meeting voters subsequently passed three articles related to marijuana – one outlining boundaries for marijuana establishments, one restricting retail marijuana establishments to the industrial zone and one imposing a 3-percent tax on retail sales of marijuana. Selectmen also authorized the town manager to hire special town counsel to handle cannabis projects, if needed.

Perhaps special counsel was and is needed. And that’s soberingly sad, considering the last thing Dracut taxpayers need is more money being burned on more town legal bills. Talk about getting scorched!

Anyway, Hall also informed selectmen that all the host community agreements must be reviewed and amended with information justifying how the 3% tax to be collected by the town is going to be spent. Hall said no explanations were included in the agreements that were signed with Lazy River Products or the other companies. He also indicated that the money collected can only be used for items related to the impact of the business, such as the installation of traffic signs, lighting and other municipal expenses.

Selectman Alison Hughes said she and her colleagues were under the impression that the marijuana money could be used for any purpose. Hall said that is not the case and that expenditures of collected funds must be site specific.

Talk about a big buzzkill!

“Then what does it do for us?’’ Selectman Joe DiRocco asked.

“I can answer that question in two weeks.’’ Hall responded.

The host community agreement that Duggan signed with Lazy River Products LLC has already been submitted to the state; Hall and Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal are working with the company to review the terms and determine if any changes are needed, so an agreement can be approved by Dracut selectmen before the company goes before the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission for its license on January 16th. Selectmen have a meeting scheduled for January 14th, although Chairman Jesse Forcier indicated that a special meeting could also be called to approve the amended agreement, if necessary.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a major problem,” Hall reassured selectmen about the agreement. “I think if we move quickly, we can resolve this and resolve the others.”

In any event, don’t put on a Cheech & Chong movie or break out the munchies just yet.

What else could possibly go wrong? I’m guessing just about anything. Call me paranoid.

— Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee representing the Second Essex and Middlesex District of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury. ◊