In August, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse became the first mayor in Massachusetts to support the legalization of recreational marijuana. Now, he says that he wants to make Holyoke a "hub" for recreational marijuana. The marijuana industry, he says, promises jobs, opportunities to increase revenue, and tourism in Holyoke. It would also be a way to fill the city's 1.5 million square feet of vacant mill space downtown.
The mayor's plan has also garnered criticism, including from City Council President Kevin Jourdain. Jourdain has said that he does not want Holyoke to be known as the "marijuana Mecca of Massachusetts."
On what a hub would look like
"Given the legalization and the passage of Question 4 and before that of course, medical marijuana we need space in the Commonwealth, obviously to cultivate marijuana no matter where it's eventually dispensed throughout the state.
"Holyoke is well positioned in Western Massachusetts at the intersection of 90 and 91. We have cheap green renewable energy and an abundance of vacant mill space. Today alone, we have 1.5 million square feet of vacant mill space in downtown Holyoke and I as mayor obviously have been very open-minded to the marijuana industry, particularly given its passage, to now take advantage of these economic development, workforce development opportunities as a means to create jobs and expand tax base in our community. And enhance revenue of course."
On cultivating other industries, not just marijuana
"By no means do I think the marijuana industry is the salvation for Holyoke's economic development future. It's one piece of the pie of a broader economic development strategy.
"We've had a strategy over the last five years that focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation and manufacturing, the creative economy. And so when I say we need to seize on this as a economic development opportunity, it's one industry among others that we've seized upon over the last five years that has resulted in the lowest unemployment rate in 16 years in our community ...
"Our pitch for business is the same as it would be for other industries and I think this industry in particular relies on an abundance of space and electricity, an abundance of water, and supportive policymakers that see through some of the stigma that other elected officials and policymakers have placed on a topic like this."
On the criticisms
"I certainly don't expect every city councilor to agree with me or disagree with me ... What we can disagree on is that nearly 60 percent of Holyoke voters and Massachusetts voters overall voted in favor of Question 4 and before that voted in favor of medical marijuana. So communities across our Commonwealth are gonna be home to both cultivation sites and dispensaries. Communities are gonna be seeing job growth and tax growth and why not the city of Holyoke?
"Cultivation sites even in Holyoke would be able to supply their product to dispensaries in Eastern Mass. where a company for example may not be able to secure space in areas that are landlocked or just too expensive to make the industry profitable ...
"When I became the first and only mayor to support Question 4, it wasn't endorsing the use of marijuana, it was endorsing a regulated system that finally provides us the opportunity to both take advantage and capitalize on the potential benefits of its legalization, while also for the first time being able to publicly combat some of the negatives of the use of marijuana."
This article was originally published on January 11, 2017.
This segment aired on January 11, 2017.