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NORTHAMPTON — Local business and political leaders joined a top state cannabis official and the president of New England Treatment Access on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the dispensary’s fifth anniversary of selling medical marijuana in the city.

During a virtual news conference, they reflected on the impact that access to medical marijuana has had in the community since NETA on Conz Street became the first medical pot facility to open in western Massachusetts in September 2015.

“Our organization was built on the idea that cannabis can improve lives and that access to cannabis medicine should be a right afforded to all,” NETA president Amanda Rositano said. “From the moment we served our first medical patient five years ago today, we’ve brought access, education and care to thousands and thousands who are now part of the NETA community.”

Rositano touted the company’s NETA Cares program, which she said has provided close to one ton of food to the Northampton Survival Center and hundreds of pounds of toiletries for the Interfaith Shelter and Safe Passage.

After Rositano thanked Mayor David Narkewicz for his support of NETA, the mayor said city officials were “pleased and proud” that NETA had secured the second registered marijuana dispensary license in the state years ago. NETA has another dispensary in Brookline and a cultivation facility in Franklin.

“I have heard so many stories over my time as mayor over the last five years of the life-changing effects of having safe and legal access to medical marijuana,” Narkewicz said.

As of April this year, the city had reaped almost $6 million from a combination of fees and taxes on the marijuana business, according to data provided by the mayor’s office. 

The $5,969,132 comes from three different sources: A community impact fee from a host community agreement inked in 2016 for NETA’s medical marijuana operation only; a community impact fee for a host community agreement signed in 2018 for the company’s recreational operation; and a 3% excise tax on all gross recreational marijuana sales at NETA.

Steven Hoffman, the chairman of Cannabis Control Commission, said that between the time the commission assumed oversight of the state’s medical marijuana program in December 2018 and August of this year,  the number of active patients has risen from 58,0 00 to 86,197, and the  number of facilities licensed to sell medical cannabis rose from 47 to 64.

He said the commission eliminated the $50 patient registration and renewal fee in 2019 and has welcomed new technology such as telehealth for patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The expansion of patient access will continue to improve as we go forward,” Hoffman said.

Vince Jackson, executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, said that NETA has been “a great tourism partner.” Early on, he noted, NETA was the only place in western Massachusetts where patients could get medical marijuana.

He said NETA manufactured hand sanitizer early in the COVID-19 pandemic and had purchased a bulk order of Northampton gift cards for its employees that he said supported the local economy.

“At every turn, you’ve really shown that you are a big part of our community,” Jackson said.

In April, NETA announced that it had furloughed and laid off some employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rositano said Thursday that close to 100 people now work at NETA Northampton.

She said that when assessing the company’s overall impact on the community, NETA looks at metrics such as the number of patients and customers served, tax and community impact fee revenues and the diversity of its staff.

Rositano also said NETA was focused on helping areas disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition by providing jobs to people within those areas and rolling out social equity programs across the state.

In regard to the money the city has made since NETA opened five years ago, Narkewicz said that NETA and city officials in 2016 had come to an agreement that NETA would pay an amount equal to 1.5% of its gross revenues on its medical products per year, up to a certain amount.

Combined, NETA has paid out $723,634 in medical community impact fees and $2,624,329 in recreational marijuana impact fees for a total of $3,347,963. 

The remaining 3% excise tax on all gross sales of recreational marijuana at NETA has netted the city $2,621,169 since the business became one of the first in the state to sell adult-use marijuana in November 2018.

In 2019, the Northampton Police Department billed NETA $804,403 for costs associated with police officers working details in front of the store.

In June, Colonial Cannabis Company on Bridge Street became the city’s second recreational marijuana store.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.

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