Healey says her prior cannabis concerns may have been ‘unnecessary’

Says the focus now needs to be on equity in the marijuana industry

IT WAS NOVEMBER 2016, days before Massachusetts voters would legalize recreational marijuana. Attorney General Maura Healey stood in front of the State House at a rally with health care professionals and warned of dangerous outcomes should marijuana be legalized. Ballot question opponents voiced concerns that marijuana-infused edibles could be accidentally eaten by children and that there would be an uptick in impaired driving. 

Marijuana companies, Healey warned, “will always put profits before people.” 

Fast forward nearly six years, and Healey is a Democrat running for governor, who will be seeking support from business owners and customers of those same marijuana companies that she derided, with the industry now legal and operating since 2018. 

At a meeting with CommonWealth, Healey was asked whether her fears about the cannabis industry were realized. Healey said she opposed legalization because of her concern about the impact it would have on young people and the potential for addiction. “I hope that my concerns about the adverse impact on young people don’t come true. To date I haven’t seen evidence of that,” she said.  

“My fears may have been…” Healey said, then paused for a long time before starting her sentence again. “My concern may have been, fortunately, unnecessary.” 

At this point, Healey said, cannabis is here and the focus needs to be on equity and “who is sharing in the prosperity of this industry.” Healey has said previously that she does not regret her vote against legalization. 

Asked about Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposals to crack down on impaired driving, including a controversial proposal to impose an automatic license suspension on someone who refuses to take a drug test, Healey said there must be measures in place to address impaired driving, but she wants to talk to experts and law enforcement further before weighing in on Baker’s idea.  

Cannabis represents a tricky issue for Healey, whose early opposition to legalization (although she did support decriminalization) puts her at odds with some of the progressive elements of the Democratic Party. Healey is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for governor and will face either Republican Geoff Diehl or Republican Chris Doughty in the general election. 

Her record is definitely not supportive of this industry,” said Mike Crawford, a medical marijuana patient and advocate who runs a cannabis podcast. Crawford plans to cast a protest vote in the Democratic primary for Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, the Senate cannabis policy committee chair, who dropped out of the governor’s race in June.  

Cannabis consultant Will Luzier, who led the legalization battle, added, “She doesn’t get high marks from me on her position on cannabis because of her opposition [to legalization] and because I haven’t really seen anything that indicates that opinion has changed.” 

While the marijuana industry is overseen by the state Cannabis Control Commission, the governor has some authority over three of the five appointments to the commission, and the governor signs the budget that funds the commission. 

Some believe Healey, like others, has evolved as the industry has normalized. David O’Brien, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, is supporting Healey. “I think, perhaps, like other voters in Massachusetts, the fears didn’t come through, and people now realize that,” O’Brien said. O’Brien said people have come to realize that marijuana business owners spend too much money securing a license to risk that by misbehaving or acting like anything other than a legitimate business. 

Sieh Samura, co-owner and CEO of Yamba Market in Cambridge and an advocate for minority cannabis entrepreneurs, said politicians who previously opposed legalization now “have to do stuff to really signal to us that they get it.” 

“Maura Healey needs to interact with the local industry in the Commonwealth,” Samura said. 

Samura, who is undecided in the governor’s race, praised the Legislature for its recently passed bill improving social equity in the industry. So far, he said, he hasn’t seen the same level of commitment from Healey. “I don’t think she has done much for our industry or for equity in our industry,” Samura said. “She hasn’t really shown that she understands the need for cannabis legalization.” 

“I haven’t seen her next to people in the industry or supporting our businesses, visititng our businesses, taking with our industry leaders,” Samura added. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Crawford said one positive step was when Healey sided with cannabis dispensary workers in a recent dispute in which they were owed tips by their employer. But he said he is discouraged by the fact that Healey’s initial nominee to the Cannabis Control Commission was Britte McBride, who held the public safety seat on the commission and was a proponent of imposing strict safety regulations on the industry. Crawford said he would like to see the next governor cut taxes and reduce regulations that are making cannabis businesses so expensive to run. 

“I think she’s just going to be another Charlie Baker, where nothing’s going to change,” Crawford said.