Baker to pot firms: I’m focusing on surge
Meanwhile, commission loosens restrictions on marijuana growers
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday fended off questions about his decision to declare recreational marijuana businesses non-essential by saying he’s focused on the expected surge in COVID-19 cases and the effort to save thousands of lives.
Baker is facing pushback from the recreational marijuana industry for his decision to declare it nonessential while deeming package stores as essential. One shop owner this week called the policy “incomprensible.”
Baker reiterated his stance that many of the customers who patronize Massachusetts marijuana stores come from out of state. “Making those sites available to anybody from the entire northeast would cut completely against the entire strategy we’re trying to pursue here in Massachusetts to keep people safe,” he said. “And that’s why they’re not an essential business.”
Store owners say they could solve the problem of out-of-state visitors by refusing to sell to them and they have insisted other precautious could be taken to prevent crowds and allow social distancing. But Baker wasn’t interesting in debating the issue.
Baker’s comments came on the same day as five recreational marijuana dispensaries and a medical marijuana customer sued Baker over the closures. They argue in their lawsuit that closing marijuana shops – and treating them differently from package stores and medical marijuana dispensaries – will cause “profound and irreparable damage” to the nascent industry, will deprive Massachusetts residents of access to marijuana, and will make it difficult or impossible for certain medical marijuana users to obtain marijuana.
In some ways, the marijuana industry is trying to adjust to Baker’s decision. Consumers are now flocking to register as patients and purchase marijuana from the medical cannabis suppliers. The Cannabis Control Commission has taken note, allowing licensed recreational marijuana growers to sell to the medical marijuana market, a move that will help growers while alleviating concerns about disruptions in the medical marijuana supply chain.
“I’m a very happy boy today,” said Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, which represents legal marijuana cultivators.
Although most medical marijuana dispensaries are not yet reporting shortages, there has been some concern among commissioners and patient advocates that an influx of new medical customers would limit the availability of products. Until now, medical marijuana dispensaries had to grow their own supply, and cultivators with a license to grow for the adult-use market had not been allowed to sell to the medical market.
At a Cannabis Control Commission meeting last Friday, Commissioner Kay Doyle said she would work with commission staff to look at ways to enhance the medical supply chain.
Commission Chairman Steve Hoffman said the commission will “do everything we can to ensure there is adequate supply to patients that need it.”
The result was an order issued by the commission Tuesday loosening the restrictions on recreational licensees selling to the medical market. Under the new order, recreational shops, manufacturers, and cultivators who have finished marijuana products can sell them wholesale to medical marijuana dispensaries as long as the medical dispensary files a form indicating that it needs the product.
Licensed recreational growers, who had been barred by the earlier order from planting new plants, will now be allowed to plant new plants and tend to existing plants in order to grow supply for the medical market. Similarly, product manufacturers who had licenses to work in the adult-use market will now be allowed to sell to the medical market.
Bernard said if recreational growers were barred from new plantings, that would have choked the supply of recreational marijuana for a long time, even after the coronavirus emergency ended. This will let growers fill the medical need and also make it easier for them to supply the recreational market once it reopens, Bernard said.
Jim Borghesani, a cannabis consultant who worked on the marijuana legalization campaign, said this is a good development for the medical supply chain. But, he said, it does not alleviate calls by advocates for Baker to allow all recreational marijuana stores to operate. “All this does is ensure adequate medical supply, but it does not get to the heart of the problem, which is that cannabis is being treated inequitably compared to alcohol,” Borghesani said.
On Monday, a group of 30 lawmakers signed a letter to Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders asking them to deem marijuana stores “essential” businesses.The lawmakers wrote that marijuana stores are able to implement social distancing practices and Baker has authority to prohibit sales to out-of-state consumers. They note that cannabis companies are ineligible for federal small business assistance since marijuana remains federally illegal, and their closures will deny municipalities much-needed revenue.
“We believe adult-use sales can occur safely and within the very appropriate public health guidelines you and your Administration have established,” the lawmakers wrote.