Pot Primer: The past and future of marijuana in Massachusetts

A cheat sheet for the upcoming State House News Forum

BOSTON – (SHNS) – Criminalized in 1911, decriminalized in 2008, and legalized in 2016, marijuana is now Massachusetts’ biggest, trickiest opportunity.

On Beacon Hill – though certainly not at the local level – the electoral and legislative wrangling is finished for the moment, and an even more consequential phase has begun: writing and enforcing the rules for this multi-billion-dollar game, and making the most of its potential.

Three ballot questions have made marijuana mainstream, but the questions are really just beginning, with Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman cast as Answerer in Chief.

Who will profit? How much? What will the industry do if too many locations ban the sale of weed in their towns? How can regulators assist the industry to grow, yet insure public safety concerns are sufficiently addressed that residents, police and officials feel comfortable enough to encourage development? What should rule makers not allow? What should the state do with the influx of revenue? And how much will a black market compete with the legal suppliers?

This cheat sheet is not the place to explore all the ramifications of the coming of legal weed to Massachusetts – the State House News Forum is! But it hopefully will provide some useful context. The Massachusetts Marijuana Summit is Nov. 15 at the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education center at 10 Winter Place in Downtown Crossing starting at 7:30 a.m.

The summit will feature will feature a leadoff talk by Hoffman followed by two panels, one focused on the key political and policy questions, and another on the theme of entrepreneurial challenges.

A Short Chronology

Other States
Massachusetts was the 18th state to legalize possession of marijuana for professionally-certified medical use. Medical use is legal in 29 states. Recreational use is legal in California, Washington State, Washington D.C., Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts.

Next Steps

The Market
The Mass. Department of Revenue estimates 2017 Mass. retail sales of between $375 million and $636 million, with about $1 billion in sales in fiscal 2020. Industry analysts New Frontier and ArcView Market Research have predicted about $1.7 billion in combined recreational and medical sales here in 2021. ArcView projects 17,400 full and part time jobs will be created growing, selling and promoting pot. The state projects state and local tax collections of approximately $240 million in fiscal 2021. Nationally, pot sales are generally projected at $7 billion to $8 billion in 2017, while the Brightfield Group just issued a report estimating the international market to swell to $31.4 billion globally in 2021. Canada is expected to legalize recreational pot next year, and European and Latin American countries are increasingly permitting medical marijuana.

The Industry
Among the major players in this enormous new sector:

Medical Vs. Recreational
The number of medical seed-to-sale dispensaries is now up to 15 – far fewer than supporters of the ballot campaign for medical marijuana imagined would be approved by now. But about 100 more locations have been granted provisional registrations by the DPH, and some will likely make it to the final stage and open – though only 35 medical dispensaries can operate statewide under the 2013 law implementing the 2012 ballot question. All approved medical dispensaries can be converted to dual medical and recreational shops with the issuance of a license, and that’s widely expected to happen.
Patients are issued marijuana cards for eight specific debilitating diseases and a number of psychological or neurological conditions, as certified by their physicians. They may possess a 60-day supply, or up to 10 ounces, in their home.

Panelists

Keynote
Steven Hoffman, CCC Chair

Panel One
Stan Rosenberg, Mass. State Senate President: Sen. Rosenberg began his career as an aide to then-state Sen., later Congressman, John Olver. He was executive director of the state Democratic party from 1983-1985. He won election to the House in 1986, and the Senate in 1991, succeeding Olver. He was Senate Ways and Means chairman from 1996 to 1999, named Majority Leader in 2013, and elected President of the Senate in 2015.

Kamani Jefferson, President, Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council: Mr. Jefferson combined a talent for sales, experience in making edibles, and a devotion to the Yes on 4 cause into an advocacy career. He founded the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council to continue to pursue the Yes on 4’s objectives of a safe and thriving marijuana industry that improves the quality of life in communities hurt disproportionately by the illegal drug trade.

Jim Smith, founding partner, Smith, Costello and Crawford: Rep. Smith was state representative from Lynn for eight years. He was one of the original sponsors of decriminalization, in the 1970s. His recent involvement on the marijuana issue centers on assisting would-be medical marijuana providers to negotiate the political and regulatory landscape of Massachusetts government.

Daniel Smith, general counsel, Sen. Patricia Jehlen: General counsels are the people in the offices of lawmakers and policy officials expected to know every last detail and ramification of the laws governing their bosses’ area of authority. As Sen. Jehlen’s general counsel, Mr. Smith was by her side when the Marijuana Policy Committee wrote the law at the centerpiece of today’s forum.

Panel Two
Dr. Karen Munkacy, CEO of Garden Remedies in Newton, a medical dispensary: Ms. Munkacy comes to her current position via her battle with breast cancer, which taught her the value of marijuana in caregiving. As both an entrepreneur and a doctor with medical-school teaching experience, she’s uniquely situated to discuss the present and future of medical marijuana.

Laura Davis, director of compliance, Good Chemistry: Ms. Davis has done much of her work overseeing compliance with health, safety and environmental regulation for companies building spacecraft and space telescopes. For instance, she oversaw the handing of beryllium in the construction of the James Webb space scope, the most powerful ever built. She’s transferred her expertise to compliance in the marijuana industry, which must observe regulations from fire safety to solvent handing to appropriate disposal of degraded product.

Tim Keogh, President and CEO, Americann Massachusetts: Mr. Keough was selling and developing Florida real estate when his friend passed away from stomach cancer. Like numerous other industry leaders, his experience compelled him to join the new industry, and he became a lobbyist for, and cultivator of, medical marijuana in Rhode Island. He then cofounded Americann, which is spearheading the construction of the largest medical cultivation facility in the country, in Freetown.

Jim Borghesani (moderator), Marijuana Policy Project: Mr. Borghesani became the most recognizable public face of legal-weed advocacy during the Yes on 4 campaign, and has evolved his role into making the case for acceptance of the industry at the local level and its maximum encouragement as policy and regulations are developed.

The Regulators
Legislative wrangling over how to oversee the expanded marijuana industry seemed neverending, but finally did wrap up in mid-July with approval of a law creating the five-member Cannabis Control Commission, appointed by the governor, treasurer and attorney general. Members of the CCC, which began meeting in September:

The Local Level
As of mid November, 35 communities had adopted permanent bans on retail shops and 89 had adopted temporary moratoriums on retail sales. The resistance to sales outlets is developing as a major obstacle to the development of a vigorous industry that can successfully subsume the black market. The number of communities that have blocked sales, temporarily or permanently, exceeds the number of places that voted “No” on Question 4 – 87.