Massachusetts medical cannabis firms must do more to help rec effort, advocates say

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By Omar Sacirbey

Proponents for marijuana legalization in Massachusetts say the state’s medical cannabis industry must step up to the plate quickly to ensure a recreational measure passes this fall in the face of growing opposition – or else the entire effort could fall short.

“The cannabis industry has been missing in action in Massachusetts,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization backing the state legalization effort called the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “I am very concerned.”

Kampia and others say that, so far, local medical cannabis businesses have been hesitant to open their wallets for the cause and participate in educating the public about the measure.

Massachusetts is considered one of the states most likely to legalize recreational marijuana this year. But fresh concerns over its prospects have surfaced after local political leaders began lining up to defeat legalization efforts.

A local spokesman for the legalization campaign concurred the cannabis industry could provide more support and increase its contributions to the effort. But he didn’t go so far as to say the campaign is in trouble.

“Some industry folks have stepped up to the plate, but not enough,” Jim Borghesani, the campaign’s communications director, said. “We’ve met all of our campaign goals thus far. But our long-term success hinges upon more industry members doing the right thing for this historic cause.”

The legalization measure is now with the state legislature, which has until May 3 to approve it or take no action. It’s doubtful lawmakers will approve the measure. In that case, the campaign will have until July 6 to collect 10,792 more signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Tougher than usual political opposition

The measure is sitting pretty right now from a polling perspective, with a recent survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute finding that 57% of respondents support legalization.

But Kampia worries about opposition from the Massachusetts political establishment, which could sway locals to vote no.

While it’s not unusual that high-level politicians like Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healy have all spoken out against legalization, it is rare – and worrisome that they have launched an anti-legalization committee called the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, Kampia said.

The group has registered with the state office of Campaign and Political Finance and can raise money to fight the legalization proposal should it go on the November ballot.

New England’s growing problem of opiate abuse has made the region’s lawmakers and public officials more wary of legalization.

As evidence of the local medical marijuana industry’s complacency, Kampia pointed to a fundraising meeting his organization held in late April in Boston.

The advocacy group sent hundreds of invitations to “interested parties,” said Kampia, but only 15 medical marijuana license holders reserved a spot. Just one showed up.

Compared with other states, industry participation is lower in Massachusetts, Kampia said. In Arizona, for example, Marijuana Policy Project and its local activists support half the effort, while the local medical marijuana industry (which, it should be noted, is much larger than the industry in Massachusetts) supports the other half.

Massachusetts’ six open MMJ dispensaries and the state dispensary association didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

Why the disengagement?

Kampia said the lack of industry support may be due, in part, to the perception that Massachusetts is a liberal state – thus lulling legalization supporters into a false sense of confidence.

He also pointed out that:

  • Medical cannabis business owners in Massachusetts have their money tied up in the licensing process and getting their companies off the ground.
  • Some businesses want to maintain their share of the medical marijuana market rather than open it to recreational competition.
  • People believe they don’t have to give money, because the Marijuana Policy Project or other businesses will.

“I have been told people in Massachusetts in the industry think that MPP will save them. We’re not going to save anyone. This campaign is not supposed to be funded 100% by out-of-state interests,” Kampia said.  “In Massachusetts, people have money, they’re just not giving it. They’re sabotaging the campaign through inaction.”

Dorian Des Lauriers, CEO of Pro Verde Laboratories, a cannabis testing firm in Milford, said he wouldn’t describe the state’s medical cannabis businesses as complacent. But he agrees they could do more public outreach and education.

Des Lauriers received an invitation to the MPP fundraising meeting but didn’t go because he was out of town. He said he would have gone had he been around.

“I agree with him (Kampia): The industry could do more to educate the general population about this product,” Des Lauriers said.

But he’s confident legalization will pass.

“This has become a non-issue for most voters, and the industry’s lack of participation won’t change that,” Des Lauriers said.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at