Between the Lines: Pot Luck for Pols

Like a majority of Massachusetts voters, I supported Question 3 in November. The ballot initiative, which passed by an incredible 2 to 1 margin, legalized medical marijuana in Massachusetts.

State government has found ways to frustrate the wishes of voters before; consider, for example, the Legislature’s handling of the Clean Elections law passed by voters in 1998 only to go unfunded and effectively stymied until lawmakers repealed it outright in 2003. So supporters of Question 3 should probably be thankful that state officials have moved fairly quickly to get a process in place to license up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries. But as someone who supported the legalization of medical marijuana as well as the successful effort here in 2008 to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of pot, some of what we’re now learning about the state’s implementation process has me shaking my head.

First, the cost of applying for and holding a license to distribute marijuana appears to be both a likely barrier to a majority of residents and a bit of a money grab by state government. Perhaps more vexing are some of the names cropping up in the applications.

Among the applicants from Western Massachusetts-based non-profit organizations seeking licenses are at least two former state senators. Andrea Nuciforo, a Democrat from Pittsfield who ran unsuccessfully last year for congress after 10 years in the Legislature and six as Register of Deeds in Berkshire County, is part of a group hoping to open a dispensary in Amherst. Former Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees of East Longmeadow, a Republican who became Hampden County Clerk of Courts after leaving the Legislature in 2007, is part of a group in Springfield seeking a license. Lees’ group includes Heriberto Flores, president of the New England Farm Workers Council, and Mary Frey, wife of former Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett. Bennett, who actively opposed marijuana decriminalization in 2008, has acted as legal counsel for the Lees/Flores/Frey group, according to state records.

Last week, the state Department of Public Health received more than 100 applications to operate dispensaries, beginning the first of a two-phase vetting process. In this first round, DPH required applicants to pay a $1,500 non-refundable fee and show that they have at least $500,000 in available capital. For round two, the non-refundable fee to applicants will be $30,000. Once granted a license, a dispensary will have to pay an annual $50,000 fee.

Question 3 was about providing sick people access to medical marijuana, not creating another pension program for retired pols or limiting the opportunity to run a dispensary to only the well-heeled and well-connected.•


Author: Tom Vannah

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