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Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Program Falls Short Of Expectations

Wikimedia Commons: Original uncropped image from Laurie Avocado

Massachusetts marks a milestone of sorts today in the availability of medical marijuana. The first dispensary in the city of Boston is scheduled to open.

The medical marijuana shop operated by Patriot Care that scheduled its grand opening for Wednesday in a formerly vacant retail location in Boston’s Downtown Crossing will be just the seventh dispensary to open in Massachusetts since voters authorized medicinal marijuana four years ago.

The 2012 ballot initiative that passed by a 63 percent-37 percent margin authorized up to 35 dispensaries statewide in the first year.

Some municipal leaders, like Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, were cool to the idea of  medical marijuana; others, like Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, were more welcoming.

"Medical marijuana has been very helpful to people with debilitating medical challenges and issues and sickness and we want to be able to help them out and accommodate them moving forward," said Sarno.

But when Springfield put out a request for proposals from would-be medical marijuana dispensary operators in 2014, there were no applicants.

Shortly after taking office in 2015, Gov. Charlie Baker scrapped a contentious state-licensing process for medical marijuana operators that had been put in place by the previous administration of Gov. Deval Patrick.  Later that year, the first dispensary in the state opened its doors in Salem.

 The first and, so far, only medical marijuana dispensary in western Massachusetts opened in Northampton last September.

Cities and towns cannot ban medical marijuana facilities, but through special permits can restrict where the dispensaries can be located and place conditions on how they operate. Municipalities can also negotiate host community agreements that, it turns out, can result in lucrative payments from the dispensary operators.

In Springfield, the Sarno administration negotiated an agreement with Hampden Care Facility Inc. for a dispensary in an industrial area on the city’s east side.  It spells out a schedule of annual payments starting out at 3 percent of the gross revenue and eventually rising to 7 percent. The company, in documents provided to the city, projects gross revenue in the third year operations will exceed $6 million.

The proposed deal hit a snag when it went before the city council for ratification in June.  Several councilors, including City Council President Mike Fenton, strongly objected to a provision that appears to give Hampden Care a 10-year monopoly in Springfield.

" The business terms of the deal seem to be appropriate except the prohibition for ten years, " said Fenton.

  He said Worcester has negotiated an agreement that permits up to four dispensaries.

The council’s Health and Human Services Committee is reviewing the agreement. Councilor Adam Gomez, the committee’s chairman, said he hopes the full city council can vote on it later this month.  He said he is mindful that people who need access to medical marijuana have been waiting a long time.

" I wish they were getting it yesterday. I wish a Springfield dispensary had opened a year ago. But you have to look at the business side of it," said Gomez.

The city council in Holyoke Tuesday referred to a committee an application for a medical marijuana dispensary.

Several proposals to operate dispensaries in Amherst are being reviewed by town officials.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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