Massachusetts Marijuana Regulators Begin Listening Tour In Holyoke

Oct 4, 2017

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission on Wednesday kicked off a listening tour, in Holyoke, where people advocated for everything from strict controls to lenient oversight.

The five-member panel charged with setting regulations for Massachusetts' new recreational marijuana industry by next summer are spending this month gathering public comment. The first stop was an event at Holyoke Community College.

By 10 a.m., about 100 people packed the large room, where Commissioners Kay Doyle and Britte McBride were ready to hear from dozens of people who signed up to speak. The crowd was a mix of old and young; lawyers and farmers; people who support strict regulation, and those who want to limit the state's involvement.

Joe Tarantino told the commissioners he believes in a hands-off approach.

"It’s not the role of the government  to unnecessarily encumber our expression and our desire with a lot of needless regulations that are only going to cause more social problems, and inefficiencies," Tarantino said.

But others cautioned against setting the regulatory bar too low.

Heather Warner coordinates a youth substance abuse prevention coalition in Hampshire County called Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth Coalition, which is part of the Collaborative for Educational Services. She said a survey her group conducted this year found nearly 40 percent of seniors at the county's public schools had used marijuana in the past month.

A large concern of hers is the possibility that, as the marijuana industry grows, it will become hard to impose new rules and regulations on big-money business interests. 

"We don't want to have to be coming back and working as prevention people without paid lobbyists for the next 25 years to catch up with a public health crisis that really is emerging," Warner said.

Members of the state's marijuana industry tried to fill in some blanks left in the law. David Caputo runs Positronic Farms, which wants to grow pot out of a former paper mill in Holyoke once it's legal to start. Caputo said the law mentions growers and dispensaries, but not distributors. He said that's a problem.

"If I was to start a brewery, I wouldn't go around trying to sell my beer to liquor stores. I'd sell it to a distributor," Caputo said. "Similarly, as a cultivator, I don't want to have to  undertake the process of essentially setting up a distributorship myself."

Commissioners will hold six more listening events, including in Worcester and Pittsfield next week. They'll accept written comments until the end of the month.