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Cannabis panel gets plenty of feedback on recreational pot rules

  • Dominic Faratra, of Southwick, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Caputo, president of Positronic Farms in Holyoke, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bill St.Croix, of Ware, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kolleen Barlow, of Russell, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jessica Allan, city planner for Easthampton, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Heather Warner, coalition coordinator with the Collaborative for Educational Services, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Karen Walsh-Pio, coalition coordinator with the South Hadley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joseph Tarantino, of Northampton, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@BeraDunau
Thursday, October 05, 2017

HOLYOKE — The Cannabis Control Commission held the first of its public listening sessions on Wednesday. It got an earful.

The session took place at Holyoke Community College in the Kittredge Center. Despite taking place at 10 a.m. on a weekday, the room was full of people, a number of whom stepped forward and shared their thoughts with the commission.

The majority of the speakers appeared excited about the potential of the legal cannabis industry.

“We are eager to see commercial marijuana operations in western Mass.,” said Dick Evans, a Northampton lawyer who chaired the Question 4 Campaign Committee. “We’ve been waiting over a century.”

A significant minority of speakers, meanwhile, spoke to the potential harmful effects that the recreational marijuana industry could have on young people.

“I’m seeing dollar signs in everybody’s eyes,” said Karen Walsh-Pio, of the South Hadley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition. “My concern is the impact on our young people.”

Another category of speakers consisted of local officials tasked with coming up with policies for the budding industry.

“Get the regs out as soon as possible,” Easthampton City Planner Jessica Allan urged the commission.

Two members of the five-member commission, Kay Doyle and Britte McBride, were present for the session. The commission has been tasked by the commonwealth with coming up with regulations for the recreational marijuana industry, and Doyle said it expects to release draft versions of those regulations in December, after which there will be a round of public hearings on them.

One of the concerns shared by a number of the speakers was that outdoor commercial growing be allowed under the regulations. Currently, all the medical marijuana produced in Massachusetts is grown indoors.

Another common concern was that big business would dominate the legal recreational marijuana market, especially if there was too much regulation.

“You can’t make it so difficult that only big corporations can be in this business,” said Chris Parker, who said that was the biggest problem Colorado had with its legal industry.

“Small farms … have better-quality products,” said Ware farmer Bill St. Croix, who advocated for the creation of agricultural cooperatives for marijuana that would make it easier for farmers to participate in the recreational marijuana business.

He also said that the integrity of the small farmer was key in ensuring this quality, and advocated hand trimming over machine trimming.

Concern about how the black market might affect the marijuana industry was also expressed by a number of speakers.

“This is not a new industry but an existing industry,” said Tim McCarthy, who spoke in favor of small “craft cultivators” of marijuana and a cooperative model based off the shellfish industry on Cape Cod.

He also said that outdoor growing would allow existing organic farmers and greenhouses to become involved in the industry.

Allan and Springfield Associate City Solicitor Tasheena Davis both asked for a clarification on the regulations on the licensing of establishments where marijuana is consumed on the premises, which they said are not clear.

Kolleen Barlow said she was testifying on behalf of her 15-year-old daughter. Barlow said she had to relocate her family because another occupant in the two-family home where they once lived smoked marijuana indoors, and her daughter is allergic to marijuana.

“I’m not against it (legal marijuana), I’m just concerned about the children,” said Barlow, who said she had given the other resident the option to smoke outdoors, and that she was currently in housing court over the issue.

Another who raised concerns about children was Heather Warner, of the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth. She cited a recent survey that showed increased marijuana use among young people in Hampshire County, even as alcohol and tobacco use decreased. She also reported that a large percentage of these young people who used marijuana had reported negative effects from it.

“These are our schoolchildren,” said Warner.

A common point of those who expressed concern with the effect of the legal industry on children was the impact of advertising on them.

Among the most outspoken of the speakers was Lucas Thayer, a farmer in Harvard, who began his remarks by sarcastically noting his happiness that two-fifths of the commission had showed up. He also expressed his preference for as little regulation as possible, saying that the state had already proved its inability to effectively regulate marijuana.

“We all have the phone number of a weed guy that has cannabis available for $200 an ounce or less,” he said.

Noting that heroin has been reported to be $4 a bag in Springfield, he said it should be the job of the commission to get marijuana’s price down $4 a gram.

Thayer’s suggestions to the commission included getting rid of all restrictions on home cultivation of marijuana and personal possession, keeping the pricing of marijuana licenses for growers the same as business licensing for farmers in the commonwealth, selling marijuana at farmers markets. He also voiced support for getting rid of age restrictions for marijuana, in favor of educating children on proper use.

“Cannabis is in the hands of children,” he said.

When asked why the commission chose to hold the listening session at 10 a.m. on a weekday, Doyle said it was a matter of getting available space on a short notice.

One person who wanted to be able to speak, but had to go to work before he was able to, was Gerardo Ramos. Ramos, a father of two who moved to Holyoke from Puerto Rico in 1993 when he was 19, is interested in starting a marijuana-growing and recreational dispensary business. However, he said his sealed assault and battery conviction, which occurred 17 years ago, would prevent him from getting a license.

“We deserve the opportunity, even though we have a mistake in our life,” he said before the meeting. “People change.”

Two marijuana businesses, Positronic Farms and Cannabis Communty Care and Research Network, also announced their intention to have facilities in Holyoke at the session.

The commission expects to promulgate final regulations by March 15, 2018.

The next listening session in western Massachusetts will be in Pittsfield on Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. at Berkshire Community College. The Pittsfield session is also the last of the seven scheduled by the committee.

People can also submit written comments to the commission at cannabiscommission@state.ma.us