Massachusetts Marijuana Advocates Decry ‘Nasty’ Bill That Would Severely Limit State’s MMJ Program

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Massachusetts lawmakers are set to begin debating a bill that would cap the number of dispensaries in the state to just 10, set a nonrefundable application fee of at least $25,000 for cultivation licenses and enact strict regulations on the fledgling medical cannabis industry.

The Joint Committee on Public Health has scheduled a hearing on the measure – Bill S. 1031 – at 10 am on May 6. State Sen. John F. Keenan (D-Quincy) spearheaded the bill and now has 11 co-sponsors. (You can read the measure in its entirety here.)

Medical marijuana advocates have come out strongly against the bill, which would severely limit the size and scope of the local medical cannabis industry and significantly dampen MMJ business opportunities in the state. One group called the bill a “nasty” measure, saying it defies the will of the voters and would greatly restrict patient access to the drug. Other MMJ advocates fear it could create chaos that will lead to delays – and ultimately result in another ballot measure on medical marijuana.

“Essentially, this would supersede what the voters passed,” said Robert Hunt, who owns cultivation supply stores in several states and is also an MMJ consultant. “It’s a  big problem that’s been looming for a while. Keenan is trying to significantly curtail what residents already voted for.”

The bill also would unravel all the work the state’s health department has done so far in coming up with its own set of rules and regulations on the industry. The department unveiled its initial proposals several weeks ago and is scheduled to release its final recommendations today, though that could be pushed back until next week.

While the health department’s rules are expected to be onerous, MMJ advocates say Bill S. 1031 would be much more restrictive.

The bill would:

– Limit the number of dispensaries to between three and 10 statewide.

– Limit the number of cultivation sites to between three and 10 statewide.

– Require a nonrefundable application fee of at least $25,000 for those seeking cultivation licenses.

– Cap the salaries of dispensary and cultivation site executives, employees and board members.

– Prevent doctors from individually determining which medical conditions qualify for marijuana recommendations, limiting the list to the eight illnesses stipulated in the existing law.

– Limit possession to 2 ounces per patient.

The caps on executive salaries are particularly worrisome, as they could deter many well-qualified entrepreneurs from getting involved given the high risks and relatively low rewards. Additionally, the proposed limit on the number of dispensaries and cultivation centers would lead to a much smaller market than anticipated. The voter-approved law calls for up to 35 dispensaries statewide.

It’s unclear how much support the bill has among lawmakers. Some MMJ advocates say it’s highly unlikely that it will pass given the immense amount of time the state’s health department has already spent on regulations.

But Tim Keogh, who is working with a group planning to submit a dispensary application in Bristol County, said he thinks a favorable vote in the committee is likely. He is urging residents to contact their local lawmakers (here’s a sample letter Keogh created for doing so) and express their opposition to the bill.