MRCC

Grow, Gift, Repair

MEDICAL DISPENSARIES: MASS. SHOULD SLOW RECREATIONAL ROLL

MEDICAL DISPENSARIES: MASS. SHOULD SLOW RECREATIONAL ROLL

Massachusetts is poised to have perhaps the most multifaceted regulated cannabis market in the world.

The state’s cannabis commission envisions pot being sold not just at brick and mortar dispensaries, but through delivery services, cannabis “bars,” and even at yoga studios, movie theaters, and restaurants. Other states with legal marijuana sales offer nothing like it.

But don’t start salivating at the thought of buying a weed-infused grilled cheese sandwich at the multiplex just yet.

After the decision this month by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to give federal prosecutors more discretion to bring cases against state-legal marijuana operators, leaders of some of the existing medical dispensaries in the state are worried the cannabis commission’s big ideas will attract too much attention. Shouldn’t the state keep a low profile right now, they ask, and not set up a great big honking, blinking wonderland of weed?

“Given the microscope under which this industry is currently being viewed, more of a slow and steady approach would be a win in the long-term for everybody,” said Keith Cooper, chief executive of the Revolutionary Clinics dispensary in Somerville. “If Massachusetts is seen as leading an effort that creates controversy, and only one or two states are doing it, that certainly raises the prospect of the feds becoming more concerned and interested in our state.”

Cooper and others in the medical marijuana space are mostly concerned about those novel license types: delivery-only retailers, social-consumption bars, and “mixed-use” licenses for movie theaters and other businesses for which selling pot wouldn’t be the primary source of revenue.

Each comes with its own risk, they argue: the bars could have stoned drivers taking to the roads, causing an uptick in accidents that the feds would notice. Delivery services that aren’t tightly regulated could lead to pot falling into the wrong hands. And the mixed-use licenses could attract a lot of attention by bringing marijuana into Main Street retailers all over the state.

Many medical marijuana types want the Massachusetts cannabis commission to reconsider its initial votes authorizing those licenses. Some wouldn’t mind if they never went into effect, while others just want a delay of a year or so.

“If the CCC just stuck to the things that they were statutorily directed to do, which would punt down the road some of the delivery and social consumption stuff, they could honestly say they’ve addressed the will of the voters and the Legislature,” said Dan Delaney, a lobbyist and consultant for several medical cannabis operators. “There would still be some place on July 1 to buy adult-use marijuana.”

Delaney, Cooper, and others also noted that Massachusetts residents are still warming up to the idea of having cannabis operators in their neighborhoods. Cooper argued the CCC “should let that sink in for a while before taking off into uncharted territory.” Delaney added that rookie pot consumers won’t have a good feel for how much is too much when it comes to driving.

“Let’s see what adult-use looks like in a year,” Delaney suggested, “and then do social consumption, when there are more social norms around marijuana.”

A lobbying push last year by a handful of different medical dispensaries to limit new entrants in the recreational market while giving themselves a head start drew a strong backlash from activists, who accused the operators of proposing protectionist policies. (The ideas went nowhere at the CCC, though that was before the change in federal policy.)

Some dispensary officials who favor this latest “go-slow” effort don’t seem too shy about how it would protect their business interests.

“I almost hope the threat of federal interference keeps some of the players out of it,” said Robert Proctor, the chief executive of the Elevated Access Center, which plans to open a medical dispensary next year in Dartmouth. “Let’s face it: the fewer people who are in it, the bigger the pie gets for the rest of us.”

Proctor said the CCC should model its regulations after the more limiting rules enforced by the Mass. Department of Public Health, which currently oversees the medical cannabis program.

“We’d be much less exposed if they just kept to the DPH template,” Proctor said. “If I were the CCC, I’d slow my roll and take a look at where I might be vulnerable to federal intervention.”

What do you think? Is the CCC asking for trouble, or just doing what voters asked them to do? Are the medical dispensaries right, or merely trying to protect their turf? Hit Dan Adams up:
dadams@globe.com.