Boston—A group made up of cannabis legalization advocates, doctors, veterans, public health professionals, cannabis consumer representatives, a Cannabis Control Commission commissioner and a member of the CCC Advisory Board today called on Gov. Charlie Baker to end the ban on adult-use cannabis sales, a move that would bring Massachusetts into line with other cannabis-legal states with coronavirus stay-at-home advisories or orders in place.
Shaleen Title, one of the five commissioners on the Cannabis Control Commission, said that safety measures in place at medical cannabis dispensaries—which have been designated essential businesses and are allowed to continue sales—could be utilized at adult-use retail locations.
“Public health and safety must remain our top priority as Massachusetts confronts the coronavirus pandemic. I applaud Gov. Baker for recognizing that even as we strive to minimize unnecessary interactions, access to medical cannabis is essential to the health of tens of thousands of patients in Massachusetts. And I welcome and share his confidence in the ability of the Commission and its medical licensees to operate safely amid the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, including by enhancing sanitation procedures, limiting the number of patrons, and allowing curbside pickup. I believe those same measures, potentially along with a restriction on out-of-state customers, could be applied to adult-use facilities to allow for resumed operations. Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes,” Title said.
Title pointed out that the CCC earlier this month issued guidelines for cannabis businesses regarding safer retail practices during the Covid-19 crisis.
In addition to the CCC guidelines, the group recommended several measures that could be implemented to increase safety levels for consumers and employees if the ban were reversed, including:
· Restricting sales to Massachusetts residents only.
· Establishing exclusive store hours for consumers aged 60 and over.
· Encouraging or mandating the use of online pre-ordering to minimize in-store time.
· Utilizing curbside pickup, as is a practice at many package stores across the state.
Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, said the closure order is impacting consumers who use cannabis for medicinal purposes but who do not wish to register for a medical marijuana card.
“It is somewhat of an artificial line between medical and adult or recreational use with cannabis. There is tremendous overlap. To close the recreational cannabis stores means that any of the many Massachusetts citizens that utilize cannabis for medical reasons, but who buy it at recreational stores, now need to go through a costly certification process to obtain a medical cannabis card. This places both a financial and a logistical roadblock to access to what Gov. Baker himself has conceded is an essential medicine,” Grinspoon said.
Iraq War veteran Stephen Mandile, a veteran’s consumer advocate and Uxbridge selectman, said many veterans who use cannabis do not register due to stigma, employment repercussions, discomfort in talking to doctors about their conditions, or because they cannot afford the medical certification fee.
“The ban is really hurting these veterans, particularly at this time of incredible stress. There are also veterans who have used cannabis to help them quit alcohol, and now they don’t have access, which is adding to the stress. It is fundamentally unfair that Massachusetts veterans don’t have the same access as those in California, Washington and other legal states,” Mandile said.
Shanel Lindsay, a member of the Cannabis Control Commission Advisory Board and attorney who helped draft the legalization initiative, said that amid the current situation “there is no doubt that some patients will experience extreme hardship and lack of access to essential plant medicine.”
Lindsay continued: “Getting a medical card in MA is hundreds-of-dollars expensive – and it places patients on a list that many rightfully fear puts them at risk of losing their jobs, homes, or children. Though advocates have fought so admirably over the years to remove barriers so that all patients can be treated as such, we already know that, especially in underserved communities, the level of registered patients is far below the actual number of those who use and consume this plant for medical purposes.”
Jim Borghesani, director of communications for the 2016 legalization campaign, pointed out that California, Illinois, Washington, Oregon and Michigan are allowing adult-use cannabis sales amid their stay-at-home conditions.
“Massachusetts is the outlier. Gov. Baker has imposed less restrictive stay-at-home conditions but a more restrictive cannabis policy than these other states. It is difficult to reconcile the dissimilar approach. But it is clear that those states recognize the importance of maintaining consumer access to legal cannabis and the inconsistency of banning adult-use cannabis sales while allowing liquor sales,” Borghesani said.
Will Luzier, who managed the 2016 legalization campaign, said that in addition to veterans there are individuals who use cannabis for medicinal purposes but who do not wish to register for medical cards, for fear of having their name on a list maintained by the state. These include federal employees, veterans, workers with security clearances and employees of companies with strict cannabis policies.
In addition, Luzier said cannabis operators have a proven ability to execute top-level security and safety measures.
“The fact is, cannabis operators are held to far higher security standards than practically any other businesses in the state. Putting special measures in place related to coronavirus safety would be something these businesses are well prepared to do,” Luzier said.
Dr. Marion McNabb, a public health specialist and researcher and CEO of Cannabis Community Care and Research Network, said: “Findings from cannabis research studies conducted in Massachusetts point to cost and other barriers that exist for veterans, seniors, and other marginalized populations to access medical cannabis cards. As a result, many choose to access cannabis through adult-use dispensaries. While Gov. Baker should be applauded for deeming cannabis as an essential medicine, the lack of access for those without a medical card, and general adult-use consumers who could be facing higher levels of anxiety during this pandemic, will undoubtedly force them to purchase cannabis from the unregulated market. This reality, in the face of a coronavirus epidemic in Massachusetts, can lead many to deviate from stay at home and social distancing orders intended to protect the public’s health, and can put those who have underlying clinical conditions, and choose cannabis as an alternative, at higher risk of COVID-19 infection. Putting into place measures such as what the CCC has recommended and only allowing MA residents to access adult-use cannabis can relieve the inter-state travel concerns this COVID-19 pandemic brings to Massachusetts.”