Worcester, Fitchburg, Gardner marijuana shops gain provisional retail licenses

Worcester, Fitchburg, Gardner marijuana shops gain provisional retail licenses
Mass. marijuana regulators approve final licenses for retailers in Salem, Easthampton
NETA co-founder Arnon Vered sells Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, right, the first legal recreational sale of marijuana, an edible marijuana candy bar, at the NETA facility on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, in Northampton, Mass. (Carol Lollis/The Daily Hampshire Gazette via AP)

A Massachusetts mayor became one of the first people in the state to buy legal marijuana Tuesday, purchasing a weed-infused chocolate bar.

It remains how much political momentum there is in Congress to move marijuana legalization legislation. In the next Congress Republicans — generally opposed to such a move — are likely to hold a 53-47 majority. Some Republicans do favor pot reform, including Sen. Rand Paul, Ky. But any legalization bill would require 60 votes to get past a Senate filibuster.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said he didn’t plan on consuming the marijuana product but instead wanted to memorialize it to commemorate the moment.

Joe Kennedy III calls for legalizing marijuana at the federal level | TheHill

“I am actually going to probably preserve it and display it…because it is historically significant,” he told CBS News as New England Treatment Access made its first sale.

Even in the House, soon to be under Democratic control, the issue remains politically fraught. It could provide an opening to portray party members as favoring hedonistic and libertine social policies at the expense of public safety. Party leaders have not emphasized it as part of the Democratic agenda.

By becoming the first to purchase recreational marijuana, Narkewicz hopes to end the stigma around the drug.

Kennedy, a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, with jurisdiction over healthcare, represents a state that recently voted to legalize marijuana. Currently the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana in the same category as other drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

“There's obviously been a lot of stigma around marijuana in this country,” Narkewicz told NBC Boston. “Massachusetts has moved forward on it, in terms of first voting on it to decriminalize, then voting to legalize medical and now recreational.”

The first pot shops opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday in Northampton and Leicester. Both stores were already operating as medical marijuana dispensaries and were the first to be cleared by the state to sell recreational pot to adults 21 and older.

Banks fear a crackdown on transactions with marijuana suppliers and dispensaries because they are still illegal under federal law, leaving the state-law-abiding businesses no choice but to operate with cash-only transactions, Kennedy said.

Stephen Mandile, a disabled Iraq War veteran and a medical marijuana advocate, was chosen to be the first to buy recreational pot at Cultivate in Leicester, according to the Boston Globe.

Ten states that have legalized recreational marijuana use and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, according to Business Insider. Those conflicts with federal law have created a swath of problems, Kennedy wrote.

Massachusetts was the seventh state to open recreational marijuana shops, but the first state to open them east of the Mississippi River.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., opposed the states effort to pass medical marijuana, saying it would be harmful to the social fabric of Oklahoma, according to a report in the Tulsa World.

Though only two retail stores began selling non-medical marijuana Tuesday, the CCC has given at least initial approval to almost two dozen more retailers and expects that they will come online on a rolling basis.

Kennedy, a former prosecutor, also noted a disparity in the criminal justice system where skin color dictates how likely you are to be arrested and charged for marijuana possession.

The CCC marked the first legal marijuana sale with a small ceremony in its offices Tuesday morning, but by afternoon it was back to combing through license applications to put more growers and sellers in the queue.

Kennedy, D-Mass., wrote in a STAT op-ed states choices to legalize the drug, which remains prohibited at the federal level, have spurred an untenable system.

“This is obviously a major milestone for the commission and, more importantly, for the state. It is something that we have been working, as a commission, extraordinarily hard on for slightly over fourteen months,” CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said. “It’s only two stores but it represents, I think, a formidable accomplishment from a standing start fourteen months ago where we not only developed regulations, issued licenses … but built an agency to enforce those regulations going forward.”

Hoffman said no hiccups had been reported to the CCC from either retailer that launched recreational sales Tuesday — New England Treatment Access in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester — and said all indications were that things were moving along smoothly.

“I think the crowds are orderly, I think they’re being taken well care of and, most importantly, patients are being granted immediate access to the facility so there is no disruption to the patients,” he said.

Though he took a few minutes at the start of Tuesday’s commission meeting to mark the milestone of opening retail stores, Hoffman quoted Sir Winston Churchill as he reminded the commission that its work is really only getting started.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” Hoffman said.

On Tuesday, the CCC approved so-called final licenses for two more retailers — Alternative Therapies Group, Inc. at 50 Grove St. in Salem and I.N.S.A., Inc. at 122 Pleasant St. in Easthampton. Another retailer, Pharmacannis Massachusetts in Wareham, has already been given a final license.

After being given a final license, a business must satisfy the CCC’s conditions and then wait for the CCC’s notice to commence full operations before beginning sales.

Hoffman said he thinks more retail stores will open to recreational customers “quickly,” but said the ball is in the businesses’ court now.

“We have now three final retail licenses that have been issued on top of the two that opened today,” the chairman said. “They’ve got to get their inventory into METRC [the seed-to-sale tracking system] and they’ve got to let us come out and do a physical inventory inspection. Those three stores will be open as quickly as that happens. That’s at the control of the licensees.”

He added, “I think you’re going to see, every couple of weeks, a couple of new stores and not just stores, but cultivation sites and manufacturing facilities.”

Until more stores open, the stores in Leicester and Northampton must try to satisfy the demand for legal pot. Hoffman said he does not anticipate any issues with supply of marijuana while just two stores are open.

“We’ve worked with both of the existing licensees that opened today and they’ve assured us that they feel they have adequate supply, so I hope they’re right,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of demand, there’s no question about it.”

Also Tuesday, the CCC approved provisional licenses for three more retailers — Atlantic Medicinal Partners, Inc. at 774 Crawford St. in Fitchburg, Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, Inc. at 9 Harrison St. in Worcester and Sanctuary Medicinals, Inc. at 16 Pearson Blvd., Gardner — four provisional cultivation licenses and five provisional product manufacturer licenses.

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