Second Marijuana Summit Tackles Local Opposition, Financial Struggles

Legally grown marijuana in Colorado. Photo by Brett Levin / Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pamela Fourtounis
BU News Service

The State House News Service hosted the second annual Massachusetts Marijuana Summit Friday for experts in the recreational marijuana industry to address concerns going forward as recreational dispensaries are scheduled to begin opening on July 1.

An estimated 200 people came to the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Center despite the stormy conditions outside.

The summit began with an introduction by Aaron Bluse, president of Altitude Organics, a medical and recreational cannabis retailer from Colorado. Bluse commended the Commonwealth for its continued progressive stance on issues including cannabis.

Altitude Organics, opened in 2010, is the largest indoor grower in Colorado. The company is in the final stages of approval for a facility in Western Massachussets.

“There is a right and a wrong way to do this,” Bluse said of opening recreational cannabis retail stores, explaining that Altitude employs strict security and surveillance procedures in all of their facilities, comparable to a bank or a casino.

Shaleen Title, a member of the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), which is responsible for setting statewide regulations and procedures for the rollout of recreational marijuana, gave the keynote address.

Title has worked as an activist and marijuana lawyer concerned with the social injustice stemming from marijuana laws she called “Draconian and racist.” She expressed pride and satisfaction for the progress the CCC has made.

Title credited 89-year-old Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon for guidance and support during this time, noting his 1971 book, “Marihuana Reconsidered,” as influential in debunking negative myths about cannabis.

Title said that Massachusetts could be the leader in accessibility, equity and sustainability.

“How the industry and big government will deal with big data in the industry is critical to the integrity of the industry for future generations,” said Shawn Connelly, a local who said he attended out of his own curiosity.

Panel one: State regulations and federal threats

The panel was comprised of Bluse, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, partner at Smith, Costello, & Crawford Jim Smith and managing director of Revolution Clinics of Colorado Meg Sanders. It was moderated by Jim Borghesani of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Smith gave the audience a reality check saying not much will happen on July 1 because of the six-month delay decided on by the CCC. He said a few stores will open but product will likely sell out quickly.

The panel then turned to discuss local municipalities. Smith expressed disapproval for cities and towns that are passing moratoriums and bans on recreational retailers.

Curtatone explained that Somerville, as a city with one of the leading margins for passing legalization, is studying where and how they want to operate retailers and engaging the community in the process. He suggested other local governments follow suit.

Sanders compared the situation with that of Colorado, where there are 2,000 licenses compared to the 22 in Massachusetts. She said she receives calls from voters every day asking about the progress of the recreational industry in the state. Sanders argued cities and towns with moratoriums and bans are letting the unregulated weed market flourish.

“The voters have spoken,” Sanders said. “The rules are in place.”

Panel two: Financial hurdles 

Michael Dundas, CEO of Sira Naturals and member of the Cannabis Advisory Board, explained the difficulty of getting investors involved in recreational and medical facilities. He said this is because investors must contribute more than $1 million, but must be willing to lose their money since cannabis is illegal under the federal government and still subject to legal consequences.

Mitzi Hollenbeck, CPA, CFE and partner at Citrin Cooperman, explained U.S. Code 280E, which prevents cannabis businesses from deducting expenses in their taxes. This means retailers could face taxes between 60 and 80 percent, Hollenbeck said.

The panelists applauded Century Bank specifically for its reliability to those in the cannabis industry at a time where other financial institutions stray from getting involved.

“They are willing to step out there and be at the forefront of the industry,” Dundas said.

Several activists, journalists and organizers were impressed with the work being done at organized events like this to move forward in making marijuana more available in the Commonwealth.

Christopher Bent, account executive at weekly alternative newspaper Dig Boston, said his company has been covering the marijuana industry since the beginning in their “Talking Joints” memos. Bent said they recently published a story about NETA selling moldy cannabis which had been dunked in hydrogen peroxide.

Bent said Dig Boston accepts advertisements from cannabis businesses on their site, which is rare because the industry is still subject to stigma.

“It’s hard to get advertisers for weed on other publications,” he said.

David Art of the State House News Service said he was pleased with the turnout.

“This was a very pro-cannabis group,” he said.

Alex Dalsey, Art’s colleague, mentioned the last summit was more of a mix between supporters and opponents.

“We don’t have an agenda, we just want speakers to express themselves and they did that well,” Art said.

Adam Fine said he knows residents are eager to see how the CCC handles the upcoming rollout.

“If you are skeptical, I understand. We have a very progressive committee listening to the public. They got more than 500 comments and I was pleased to hear them say they want more comments. They are listening,” Fine said. “Be persistent and vocal. That’s the best way to keep things moving.”

 

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