CARBONDALE — Trustees agreed on Tuesday to slash fees for setting up a recreational pot shop from the original $5,000 per license, to $2,000 per license, with an annual renewal fee of $2,000, following a plea from a local medical marijuana seller who wants to expand to offer recreational pot, too,
The trustees came to their conclusion at a work session, in which no formal decisions can be made, so the formal vote on the fee reduction will come at a regular trustee meeting on Jan. 14.
Town Clerk Cathy Derby said on Wednesday that, in addition to the lowered fees, the trustees agreed to make their fee modification retroactive, so that the only medical marijuana dispensary to apply for a recreational license, the Doctor’s Garden, will be getting a refund.
The trustees agreed to the change for several reasons, starting with a general consensus that the voter-approved, 5 percent sales and excise taxes on the marijuana trade should provide sufficient revenue to pay for the costs of regulating and licensing the businesses, of which officials have repeatedly said is their goal in imposing fees or taxes on the new industry.
“I’m totally in favor of lowering these fees,” declared Trustee Frosty Merriott, after noting that he had announced that same opinion earlier in the year, even before the tax proposals were approved by local voters.
“I think the best part of lowering the fees is to keep it a local deal,” added Trustee John Hoffman, after expressing concerns that fees set too high might discourage locals from getting into the business and open it up for outside entrepreneurs.
Another big reason for the change was the news that the fees for liquor licenses are far less than the fees for pot shops.
Derby told the trustees at the meeting that local liquor licensing fees are $72.50 for a retail liquor store, $125 for a hotel/restaurant license and $98.75 for a beer and wine license at a restaurant. In addition to the local fees, Derby said on Wednesday, the state assesses its own fees, which range from $227.50 for a retail liquor license to $351.25 for a beer and wine license.
Medical marijuana, too, has a much lower fee structure.
Derby said medical marijuana shops in Carbondale pay a license fee of $75, with an additional $500 tacked on if the shop has an on-site cultivation operation.
Medical marijuana outlets also are required to pay a $1,000 annual education fee, with the proceeds to be primarily used to offer education programs aimed at keeping young people away from pot and other drugs.
After hearing from Derby about the liquor licensing fees, local medical marijuana merchant H.P. Hansen remarked, “Wow, I had no idea it was that low. It’s almost insulting.”
Merriott, after hearing of the liquor licensing fees, renewed his call to lower the fees for recreational pot.
“My true feeling is, it should be the same as with liquor stores,” he said, citing a recent news article that predicted 80,000 people will die this year from alcohol-related causes, while no one is expected to die from marijuana.
“No lethal dosage,” declared Hansen.
The sole trustee who offered any objection to lowering the fees, Pam Zentmyer, said a change in the fees might ultimately make sense but added, “Not too much, until we see what the sales tax reality is, and how much it takes on our side to administer the sales taxes and other things.”
The trustees also agreed to hold a work session in January to discuss the disparity between fees for recreational marijuana and liquor stores, and whether changes need to be made to make the fees more equitable.