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Councillor seeks pot revenue as an option to fund new high school

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By Barbara Taormina


REVERE – Voters rejected it, the City Council banned it, but now city officials are taking another look at permitting adult-use marijuana shops in Revere. This week, the City Council’s Economic Development Subcommittee met to discuss Councillor-at-Large Marc Silvestri’s motion that the council begin preliminary discussions on zoning changes related to medical and adult-use marijuana in the city.

While opposition to retail marijuana shops was strong several years ago, much has changed over time. The city is now looking for available options to raise revenue to fund the new high school. City Chief Financial Officer Richard Viscay recommended that the council consider permitting retail marijuana to bolster city revenue. According to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, 2023 marijuana sales in Massachusetts exceeded $1.5 billion, an increase of $78 million, or five percent, from 2022. Marijuana is subject to a 6.25 state sales tax, a 10.75 percent state excise tax and an additional three percent tax from cities and towns.

But beyond the dollars, retail marijuana shops have also shown they do not create problems some people feared.

City Planner Tom Skwierawski, who was the city planner for Fitchburg during the early days of the cannabis industry in Massachusetts, shared his experience with members of the subcommittee. Skwierawski explained that communities typically limit the number of marijuana businesses to 20 percent of the number of package stores in a city or town. “For Revere, that means three facilities,” Skwierawski told the committee, saying that zoning could allow retail shops in specific zoning districts or the council could create an overlay district. He added that Fitchburg’s zoning required a 300-foot buffer zone between a marijuana business and any place children could congregate, but he added that could be waived if permit applicants could show they were actively preventing marketing to children.

“It’s good to have a rule of thumb but not to be too rigid,” he said. Skwierawski said that in Fitchburg there were guardrails for permit granting authorities, such as requirements for public safety plans. But he added that strong permit applicants understand that need and often work with law enforcement to develop security plans.

“If you do it right, ask the right questions, put the right guardrails in place, they operate like any other retail store,” he said.

“I don’t think I would be a proponent of this, but I would like to see a lot of feedback from the community about how they feel about having this in their neighborhoods. I would also want to see strong evidence of the revenue benefit before I sign onto this,” said Councillor-at-Large Michelle Kelly.

Councillor-at-Large Robert Haas asked Skwierawski about the three percent community impact fee allowed by the state. Skwierawski said there have been problems with that fee and the Cannabis Control Commission now requires communities to show the impact marijuana businesses have on a municipality, such as the need for an additional police officer, firefighters or other expenses.

City Council President Anthony Cogliandro asked Skwierawski about Fitchburg’s experience with traffic and revenue. Skwierawski said there were some well-thought-out traffic plans in place for the first few month’s retail sales were allowed. Fitchburg was one of the first cities to permit retail marijuana, and he said that was when there were lines going down streets. Police details and other traffic control measures were put in place, he said, but after a couple of months, they were no longer necessary.

The city planner agreed with committee members that creating a commission to review applicants to ensure the city is bringing in strong businesses is a good idea. “You’ll see the good ones when they apply,” he told the committee.

Councillor Silvestri said the city has had 15 years since the cannabis bill allowing retail marijuana sales passed. “We got to see the Cannabis Control Commission work out all the kinks,” said Silvestri.

The committee agreed to continue the discussion on retail marijuana and its potential benefits to Revere.

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