The dispensaries, most of which plan to join the recreational market, argue along with public health advocates and some legislators that such operations would undercut the investments they were required to make under the state’s more onerous medical cannabis regulations, be difficult to regulate, and risk inviting a crackdown by federal law enforcement. And, like Baker’s office, they question the capacity of the cannabis commission to oversee so many different types of businesses.
“The residents of Massachusetts expect the [cannabis commission] to walk with confidence before it runs,” said David Torrisi, a former state legislator who heads the Commonwealth Dispensary Association industry group.
But on the other side are activists and entrepreneurs who say an expansive recreational licensing system with low barriers to entry will give consumers more choices and create a more equitable industry.
They have accused the dispensaries of seeking protectionist policies, and said Tuesday that Baker’s stance on the novel licenses would reduce the opportunities available to less-established players. That would undercut, they said, the marijuana law’s mandate that minorities and other marginalized communities saddled with disproportionately high arrest rates for drug crimes be included in the cannabis industry.
Similarly, activists decried Baker’s proposal to give officials essentially unlimited discretion over who can work in the industry, saying that without clear, objective standards, bias could seep into the process.
“It opens you up to discriminatory practices,” said TaShonda Vincent-Lee, who cofounded the marijuana networking group ELEVATE New England. “We’re right back to the haves and have-nots.”
And without marijuana bars or cafes, Vincent-Lee added, medical marijuana patients and pot consumers who live in federally subsidized housing will have nowhere to legally use the drug, thanks to the state’s ban on public consumption and the federal prohibition on pot.
Kris Krane, a cannabis attorney and investor, said the Baker administration is underestimating the cannabis commission — and forgetting that the state has already delayed pot sales once, from January to July.
“I think the [commission] can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Krane said.