By Lauren Frias
BU News Service
BOSTON – The next step in expanding the recreational marijuana industry in Massachusetts – and opening the door to smaller companies – should include allowing home delivery, an advisory panel has recommended.
The nonbinding recommendations of the Cannabis Advisory Board were approved Thursday after a debate that focused on licensing, security and equity of the availability of delivery-only cannabis in Massachusetts.
They were part of 48 proposals, which also include regulations on social consumption of marijuana, that will eventually be forwarded to the five-member Cannabis Control Commission for potential adoption.
Recommendations included establishing a “tightly regulated delivery framework” to support law enforcement concern and efforts, creating delivery-only licenses to marijuana startups since they require less capital to launch, and developing a program “to promote employment of economic empowerment and equity applicants in any delivery program.”
Board members were looking to address concerns that implementation of the law approved by voters in 2016 has yet to benefit small companies or people from communities disproportionately affected by the existing drug laws.
Among the proposals is one to allow marijuana home delivery and, for five years, limit those business licenses to those groups, as well as craft cooperatives and microbusiness types.
Without such a provision, one member said, there will be little impact on black market sales.
“When you tell people they can’t do it, they’re still going to find a way to do it, particularly with cannabis,” said CAB member Kim Napoli, an expert in minority business development. “Giving people the opportunity to enter the legalized market in a way that is easiest – with delivery – you have to at least give that option. Without that option, the black market, the illicit market, isn’t going anywhere.”
But Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael Jr. said security measures should be paramount.
“If you want to have delivery, just have it from licensed establishments and have compliance and have regulations, oversight and accountability within that scope,” Mr. Carmichael said. “I think that’s the safest way to go about it.”
Rep. David LeBoeuf, D-Worcester, a member of the Legislature’s Committee on Marijuana Policy, said he could see potential safety concerns with delivery drivers, as they “aren’t going to be in armored cars, so it’s making sure it’s done in a way that they aren’t targeted by people who know they are carrying such a wealthy product.”
However, former Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, CEO of the planned cannabis store Ascend, said she thinks that effort at balance would reduce the possibility of having delivery-only licenses.
“The argument that says the illicit market continues to flourish is based on the fact of the lack of availability of legal cannabis because there aren’t enough places that are open,” Ms. Cabral said. “While I share some of the chief’s concerns just on the nature of delivery and the fact that it is mobile, I don’t think that those concerns are sufficient to outweigh the benefits of making delivery licenses available.”
One potential upside of delivery services, according to Mr. LeBeouf, was the potential reduction of “some of the traffic congestion that may be associated with some of the facilities that have been overwhelmed by consumers because of their early opening and their location,” such as those which greeted the opening of Cultivate in Leicester last November.
Maggie Kinsella, press secretary of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, said that delivery could jump-start the industry, which has remained more or less at a standstill since legalization.
“With the current law, there’s a lot of people that still can’t get in just for the sole fact that some people are holding retail spaces for months, if not years,” she said. “It’s costly, it’s timely and that’s something that delivery-only can hopefully supersede those costs.”
Ms. Cabral said the panel is working to find a balance “between what people voted for and what government’s requirements are.
“That is not going to be perfect to begin with; it’s probably going to be bumpy. The goal is to keep working on it, but not to shut it down because we are constantly afraid of what happens anyway, and what will happen anyway.”
This story was previously published in the Worcester Telegram.