By Ezgi Toper
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was also published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
HANOVER — A medical marijuana dispensary has set up shop next to Friendly’s, the family fast-food chain, leaving some residents stunned after a majority of voters here said no to a ballot question last November allowing the sale of recreational marijuana.
Trevor Simmons, manager of Friendly’s on Washington Street, said the opening of the new dispensary by Curaleaf Massachusetts last month could go “both ways” for Friendly’s business, and for the Town of Hanover.
“It could be good, but it also could be bad,” said Simmons. “It’s good because (patients) are going to want food, they’re going to be hungry. But bad because parents don’t want the smell of it coming over here.”
In order to obtain a medical marijuana card in Massachusetts, a doctor must certify that cannabis will assist the patient with a condition that is terminal or severely debilitating or would help the patient at the physician’s discretion. After certification, a patient must register with the Department of Public Health through the Medical Use of Marijuana Program, to receive their card.
The possession limit is 10 ounces of marijuana but only 2½ ounces can be dispensed to a patient within 15 days. Patients are not allowed to smoke, ingest or otherwise use or consume marijuana products in any area owned or under the control of the town, or in any place accessible to the public, including a public building, street, sidewalk, park, school grounds, cemetery, or parking lot.
Joseph White moved from Newton with his wife in early February. The 50-year-old owner of Budget Car Rental said he had heard “rumblings” of a marijuana dispensary opening across from his store on Washington Street but thought it was all “a big joke.”
“It’s very startling to me,” said White. “I didn’t expect something like this from this area. I think it’s going to bring unwanted people into the neighborhood. The traffic that you don’t want around here quite frankly.”
A maximum of 35 nonprofit treatment centers are allowed in the state, and 17 dispensaries had opened as of Sept. 30. Each county is restricted to a maximum of five treatment centers. Currently Curaleaf Massachusetts is the second registered dispensary in Plymouth County.
The company planned to open in June between Boston and Cape Cod, off Exit 13 on Route 3. However, after the company changed its name from Mass Organic Therapy, CEO Patrik Jonsson said delays occurred and “everything happened last minute.”
In the best interest of patients who reached out for immediate assistance, Jonsson said the dispensary opened “sooner rather than later” in a building that used to belong to Dolce Med Spa at 2001 Washington St.
John C. Tuzik, vice-chairman of the Hanover Board of Selectmen, toured the dispensary before the soft opening.
“It’s a pretty impressive place and there are all kinds of safeguards in place to ensure security, not only of the people, but of the product,” said Tuzik. “To gain access to Curaleaf’s facility you do have to show a card. There’s several cross checks before a product is sold.”
There is no revocation process of a medical marijuana license, but cards are required to be renewed annually and if patients no longer meet criteria for the drug they are obligated to update the registry.
Tuzik said the town supported the use of medical marijuana and worked on an agreement with Curaleaf, which has developed a good and mutually beneficial relationship.
According to Jonsson, the Hanover location is ideal as it is one of two dispensaries available to serve the South Shore and Cape Cod, and so alleviates transportation issues for local patients who “aren’t comfortable driving in a car.”
As has been the case with other dispensaries around Massachusetts, Jonsson believes Curaleaf will “blend into the fabric of the community” with time.
“In every town, there’s people with their perceived notion of marijuana in general,” said Jonsson. “We realize it’s not for everyone, and we don’t expect it to be for everyone. Our goal is to educate those who are open to be educated on the benefits of marijuana.”
South Shore Hospital’s Youth Health Connection has already been a proponent in the education process. An interactive exhibit at the Hanover Mall was created in September to address potential underage marijuana usage and familiarize parents with new laws.
Kim Noble, program coordinator of the Youth Health Connection, said the town offered them a space at the mall. Thirty prevention providers from various coalitions, the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement attended the ribbon cutting, and approximately 100 residents attended the display during September.
“People were open to it for learning about what changes were coming with the law in the Commonwealth,” said Noble. “We work with over 26 community-based prevention coalitions in both Plymouth and Norfolk County. The goal is to have it go out to other communities.”
Noble said the exhibit “really kept as middle of the road” as possible on whether marijuana is or is not a “gateway” to harder drugs. “We’re just trying to inform people about the fact that the law in the Commonwealth is changing and what they need to be aware of,” said Noble. “We’re really trying not to be on either bandwagon.”
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to come before the use of other licit and illicit substances, and the development of addiction to other substances. However, the institute found that the majority of people who consume marijuana do not use harder substances.
Now, Hanover officials have started to cast doubts about opening recreational marijuana stores.
The Legislature voted to delay the start date of recreational marijuana sales by six months, to July 2018. According to Rep. David F. DeCoste, R-Plymouth, Hanover and neighboring towns could be considering a ban on recreational facilities, joining a list of more than 100 municipalities who have opposed the retail sale of marijuana.
“I’ve often said the towns I represent don’t need help from Beacon Hill bureaucrats to decide how they run their town,” said DeCoste. “The people in Hanover, Norwell and Rockland are quite capable of making their own decisions. Any types of decisions regarding marijuana I support. All three towns will probably end up passing some types of limitations on recreational marijuana sales within the district and the town specifically.”
DeCoste is in the process of developing a letter for the Town of Hanover “outlining precisely what actions they can take” in limiting recreational marijuana sales. They are awaiting clarification from the attorney general’s office.
“A clear majority in all three towns are very skeptical about this marijuana experiment; obviously there is more support overall for medical marijuana but I have seen very little support from municipal leaders for legalized marijuana,” said DeCoste.
Curaleaf’s CEO said the medical marijuana dispensary has no plans to pursue recreational marijuana sales, but would not be worried if such a facility were to open.
Jim Borghesani, director of communication for the Yes on Four Campaign, also believes medical marijuana and recreational marijuana can coexist in the same town.
“Medical marijuana stores sell strains that you probably won’t find at a recreational facility so I don’t think one will impact the other,” said Borghesani.
As of now Borghesani said no community groups appear to be opposing or advocating for recreational marijuana in Hanover, but he has found many of the opponents to recreational marijuana in other towns to be “very uninformed and having regressive views.”
The campaign is working on regulations with the Cannabis Control Commission against attempts in various towns to impose bans or moratoriums on marijuana sales.
“We think that all (these bans) will do is allow the criminal market to continue to dominate marijuana commerce,” said Borghesani.
Massachusetts must now also consider if towns that have banned recreational marijuana dispensaries should get the tax revenue from the cannabis industry. Proponents of recreational marijuana plan to push the Legislature to block cities and towns with retail bans from receiving any of the potential $150 million-plus in tax revenue.
According to Kamani Jefferson, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, the organization plans to introduce a bill in January that would deny cities and towns that have banned recreational marijuana the state’s 20 percent tax on cannabis.
DeCoste denounced the bill, believing the “formula of tax distribution is fair and will make sure some towns are not shut out.”
“We focus on lottery sales and that is distributed fairly amongst the towns,” said DeCoste. “There will be people who will drive one or two towns over to purchase marijuana.”
However, DeCoste is still concerned about the long-term effects of marijuana and the potential to act as a gateway to harder drugs.
“Every person I deal with in law enforcement and many of the folks who I have dealt with in addiction recovery, they think that for a certain amount of the population marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin,” said DeCoste. “Not for everyone but they say 8, 10, 12 percent of marijuana use, that is the start of heroin addiction.”
According to new research published in the American Journal of Public Health on Oct. 11, recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado was “associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths.” The study referenced current research on cannabis substituting for opioids in pain management as a possible reduction in opioid-related poisonings.
“I don’t know if (opioid use) will decrease or increase (in Massachusetts). I may be wrong but we’re going to see if this Colorado experiment will evolve to something positive,” said DeCoste. “My fear is there’s not going to be an evolution, there’s going to be an EVILution and over the decades, things will get worse.”
Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this article stated that the Hanover dispensary was the only one available to serve the South Shore and Cape Cod. However, it is actually one of two dispensaries that serve those areas.