Editorial: Recreational pot — Go slow, take your time and think of farmers and youth

  • In this Feb. 17, 2016 photo, plants grow at the home of Jeremy Nickle, in his backyard in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nickel, who owns Hawaiian Holy Smokes and is applying for a dispensary, grows a variety of strains and has a medical marijuana card. Those wanting to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii face unique obstacles in a state of islands separated by federal waters. (AP Photo/Marina Riker) Marina Riker

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The state Cannabis Control Commission dropped into the region last week as part of its listening tour around the state to decide what, if any, changes to make to its proposed regulations governing sale of recreational marijuana.

The CCC, formed in response to a 2016 voter-backed marijuana legalization referendum, has a self-imposed deadline to have a legal cannabis market up and running in Massachusetts on July 1. The vision, which includes home delivery of cannabis, establishments — “cafes” — where users could purchase single servings of marijuana and consume it on-site, the ability for businesses like cinemas and massage parlors to also offer limited marijuana products, and more, have led to concerns by Gov. Charlie Baker and others that the commission is moving too fast into uncharted territory.

At the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield last Feb. 6, Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan heard these and other concerns from, among others, a New Salem farmer, a local addiction expert, a Deerfield Planning Board chairman, and the CEO of the medical marijuana dispensary set to open in Greenfield this spring.

In its zeal to weed out undesirables in the fledgling marijuana-growing industry, the farmer said, the state has imposed such a high bar that only big businesses with well-heeled backers can afford the millions of dollars required to obtain local and state approvals, buy land, erect growing facilities and meet other requirements in order to get in on the ground floor of what could become a lucrative industry. That leaves the small farmer out in the cold.

“If you make it inaccessible to these small farmers, who are experienced growing plants in a climate like this, then you’re just welcoming large companies who have the capital to put up big and small warehouses, indoor growing facilities,” said New Salem vegetable farmer Keith Zorn at the hearing.

Deerfield Planning Board chairman John Waite had a similar message, telling Flanagan, “You’re in a unique position ... to support our farmers and not allowing some corporations to come in and take over what they’re already doing.”

From Dr. Ruth Potee, a local addiction expert, Flanagan heard a medical caution: “I worry every single day that we’re launching down a new path of addiction for a new group of people,” Potee said. “Everything must be done to protect the developing brain.” Potee requested the commission remove a provision allowing home delivery of recreational marijuana, with the worry of fake IDs being used to get marijuana this way.

Zorn echoed this concern about marketing and access to youth, saying, “The folks who care most about that are the community farmers ... who are in those towns.”

Patriot Care CEO Bob Mayerson, who announced at the hearing that his company’s dispensary (of medical, not recreational marijuana) hopes to open in Greenfield in March, advised the commission to take the process slowly. “Social consumption places should be punted to the future,” advocating for the delay of proposed “pot cafes.”

The CCC will hold several days of public meetings during the last week of February to decide what, if any, changes to make to the proposed regulations. Its rough draft has come under fire in recent days from Baker, district attorneys and drug use prevention advocates.On Friday, the state’s district attorneys urged the CCC to “take a slow, cautious and restrictive approach to marijuana business development.

“Immediately allowing marijuana in restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, spas and yoga studios is irresponsible, ill-informed and dangerous,” Norfolk DA Michael Morrissey wrote in his role as president of the Mass. District Attorneys Association. “If, at the onset, the commission authorizes these unintended businesses, then there will be no turning back!”

In a letter from its budget and finance office, the Baker administration warned the CCC it had bitten off more than it can chew if it is to launch a legal retail market by July 1. On Thursday, Baker suggested the CCC should focus on getting the bones of the industry up and running before tackling the rest – the rest being those controversial retail outlets.

That’s the message Flanagan heard from Mayerson at last week’s hearing in Greenfield. “Do it right and slow down. It will still be here. It’s not going away. We will all end up with a better product in the end.”

We concur with that, and we hope the commission, which should be lauded for taking time to hear from the public and stakeholders, will heed the many voices urging a cautious, go-slow approach.

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