Baker’s reasoning on marijuana is incomprehensible

Treating cannabis differently than alcohol makes no sense

I AM TRYING, like everyone else affected by Gov. Charlie Baker’s shutdown of adult-use cannabis sales, to understand his reasoning. As a cannabis grower with two dispensaries and 90 employees, I can’t.

Baker cited long lines at dispensaries and out-of-staters coming into Massachusetts; both are easily fixed. Broadcasting that out-of-state sales will not be allowed will stop the influx of out-of-staters and the long lines will disappear as soon as the governor allows adult-use sales to continue. The lines were caused by fear of closure, just as there were lines for medical marijuana as well as alcohol, lines that disappeared when they were allowed to remain open.

Deeming alcohol essential because the risk of death to alcoholics, if cut off from their supply, seems to imply that if marijuana were addictive and deadly, like alcohol, then adult-use sales would have been classified as essential.  I cannot even begin to understand that argument or the underlying policy statement.

It is interesting to note that the regulations, which were implemented to govern legalized adult-use marijuana in Massachusetts, specifically provide its purpose to be regulation in a manner similar to alcohol. It is unfair to now deny the shared history and purpose.

The governor must understand that our industry has been at the forefront of taking precautionary measures since well before the initial whispers of coronavirus. Standard operating procedures require gloves and masks in many of the cultivation departments. The implementation of social distancing, hand and surface sanitizing, and limiting the number of people were added seamlessly to an existing set of procedures. We went so far as to deploy a low-frequency FM antenna to broadcast numbers over customers’ car radios, which allowed them to wait in their cars until called into the dispensary.

Little to none of this is being implemented at grocery stores, take-out restaurants, or liquor stores. Punishing an industry that has set the standard for protecting the health of its employees and customers is incomprehensible.

Equally incomprehensible is the economic costs of the cannabis shutdown. I recently presented $88,000 to my hometown of Millis, my first payment of the 3 percent payment levied as part of our host community agreement. On top of that, our retail marijuana sales are subject to a 10.75 percent excise tax plus the 6.25 percent state sales tax, plus an additional 3 percent tax levied by the state that is returned to the town.

That’s 23 percent in sales taxes and other payments alone in a state-wide industry that was projected to pump $1 billion into the economy by 2021. We are at least as valuable to the economy, and probably more, than the liquor industry, which last year paid $97 million in excise tax. Yet liquor stores enjoy “essential business” protection under indefensible rationale and illogical reasoning.

The irrational cannabis shutdown disproportionately affects the few of us that are home-grown, independent, women-owned, and economically empowered. Unlike multi-state operators, we cannot issue more shares of stock or engage in another round of financing. We cannot go to traditional banks and ask for a bridge loan to tide us over. The $2 trillion dollar stimulus package just passed has no provision for cannabis companies.

And, most important, where will those customers who now can’t get legal cannabis turn? One very dangerous aspect of the adult-use ban is the return to the black market. The street dealers will seize this opportunity to regain those customers who switched to the legal market and prey upon those new to cannabis. Their untested product and devices may lead to the same scenario considered when the governor instituted the vape ban not long ago.

Why not just get a medical card? Many can’t afford the consultation fee with a doctor to get the license. Some do not want to be on a list kept by the government. Others have designations that won’t allow medical cards, like veterans who will lose their benefits. Others cannot maneuver the steps involved and still others don’t believe that they qualify.

Meet the Author

Ellen Rosenfeld

Owner, CommCan, the Commonwealth Cannabis Companyh
The point is, many people use marijuana, purchased on the adult-use side, for medical purposes. Anxiety tops the list, but many others suffer from depression, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, migraines, insomnia, and chronic pain. I know firsthand from speaking with many customers over the last few weeks that anxiety and panic attacks were worsening with each passing day. It is difficult enough for many people to get through a normal day; it is outright cruel to deny people the products that they need during a time of crisis.

The governor would be wise to learn more about the benefits of the industry to host communities and his constituents, especially in these uncertain and economically challenging times. I wish he would meet our extraordinarily talented team, my customers, and the town leaders. My employees want to work, my customers need help, and I want to satisfy both those needs as well as continue to contribute to the economies of both the town and state that I call home.

Ellen Rosenfeld owns CommCan – The Commonwealth Cannabis Company – with her siblings Marc and Jon. CommCan operates a recreational and medical marijuana store in Millis and a medical marijuana store in Southborough.