The communities of Massachusetts must fight to retain ownership of their licenses for recreational marijuana sales. They are valuable community assets.

The license to legally sell marijuana to adults over the age of 21 in Massachusetts is a valuable commodity. The license is a unique asset. Almost anybody can get a building and a business sign and a cash register. The license from a city or town to sell marijuana is the key to the whole operation.

The license to sell marijuana legally is a creation of civil society. The license user is dependent upon the government to limit competition and to create the market for them to operate in. Marijuana use by consumers is already a huge unregulated and illegal market.

The true market for marijuana has developed despite the government's attempts to crush it out of existence. This new legal market only exists because the state of Massachusetts has created it.

The people of each community should retain the real ownership of the marijuana licenses and should profit from the increasing value of the licenses. To follow the path taken by the state on alcohol licenses would be a travesty.

In Massachusetts, the holder of a license to sell alcohol can sell their license. In Boston, a full liquor license is worth around $500,000 on the free market. The holder of that license pays the city around $2,500 annually for the use of the license. How this practice of selling a government asset came into existence I can't explain, but I know it is ridiculous and worse. Tens of millions of dollars have been made selling the transfer rights of alcohol licenses in Massachusetts and the taxpayers have seen zero profit from their assets.

Because the permitting of recreational marijuana sales is so new, the citizens of Massachusetts have an opportunity to learn from the past and to profit from it.

I would suggest that each license go up for auction every five years. It probably makes sense to stagger the auctions so they don't flood the market and dilute the value. The cities and towns get to realize the increasing value of the license, rather than have the owner sell something the community actually owns and pocket all of the money. It probably makes sense to give the current holder of the license an option to match the highest bidder at the end of the auction, too. It may make sense to give the holder of the license a small share of the license profit too if they are outbid.

If a license is worth $1,000,000 on the free market, it is impossible to justify that the local community receives none of that increase in the asset's price. That is what is happening now with alcohol licenses in Massachusetts and it is wrong.

It would be a crime to forget the interests of the local taxpayers when it comes to profiting from the sale and transfer of marijuana licenses. The license is a government asset and it should be treated accordingly. The Massachusetts legislature needs to step up and protect the cities and towns financial interests in this growing industry.

Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

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