Between the Lines: Thought We Already Legalized It, What’s the hold up with weed?

This time, when I went to Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing last Friday, I didn’t have to wait in a line to get in.

I also didn’t get any weed when I left.

For nearly two months, Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing operated like a weed club. Located in a strip mall on Page Boulevard in Springfield, patrons paid a “cover charge” of $20-$50 and left with either one or three grams of marijuana as a “gift.”

I checked the club out last month for my O, Cannabis! column and found the place to be clean, jolly, and orderly — a much better experience than the old fashioned way of obtaining weed from a dealer. While there, I believe I saw at least one person picking up marijuana for medicinal purposes: a woman in her 60s with what appeared to be arthritis in her hands left with a gram. I think the other ten or so people I ran into were there for recreational pot. Mary Jane is just the kind of place many voters had in mind when they helped legalize recreational marijuana in 2016.

But Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing got shut down anyway.

Since Massachusetts voters made recreational marijuana legal in the state, many people have been eagerly awaiting retail weed sales — which aren’t expected until mid-2018 at the earliest. While it’s legal to possess, use, and grow marijuana in Massachusetts, it’s still illegal to buy or sell it for recreational use.

This gray legal area was created by state politicians who have yet to provide solid guidance on how communities should handle entrepreneurs who provide people with recreational weed — without explicitly charging them for it.

The transition from prohibition to legalization was always going to be murky. Politicians knew it, too, which is why they shouldn’t have pushed back the date to start issuing retail marijuana licenses by six months. Prolonging this limbo puts consumers and business owners at risk, municipalities in confusion, and police unsure of how to enforce the law. It’s not tenable, and in the case of Charles Jr. and Selina Christian, this situation is busting up their business.

On Thursday, March 2, Springfield police served the Christians, the husband and wife team that runs Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing, with a cease and desist order from the city’s licensing department. No one was arrested and no criminal charges have been filed. Springfield’s licensing officials say the Christians broke the law when they allegedly failed to: apply and obtain licenses to sell marijuana, pay business fees, provide proper security for a marijuana establishment, meet state standards for sales to people under age 21, keep adequate records, and meet signage restrictions among other assertions. If the Christians don’t stop “selling marijuana” from their store, they could face “enforcement” by city police.

Meanwhile, the Christians, who held a press conference March 3, say Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing follows state law. The company didn’t sell marijuana or gift it to anyone under the age of 21. Mary Jane never advertised its services to the public, the Christians say, a wrinkle in the law that may allow MJ to reopen at some point.

“We were responsible,” Selina Christian says. “We checked everyone’s ID. We explained everything when they get here. There’s no way we would sell marijuana. We had club guidelines; you paid an admission, dues, to come to the club.”

Charles Christian says he’s planning to open his store again as soon as he is able — and before 2018. The people of Springfield can’t wait for the state to get its act together on marijuana, and they shouldn’t have to. Marijuana has the ability to heal, he says, but not everyone can afford the $250 it costs to go to the doctor and register with the state for a medical marijuana card, let alone get a ride up to Northampton where the only dispensary in Western Mass is located.

Selina and Charles say they got into the marijuana business after Selina’s cancer came back in 2014.

“I can’t say medical marijuana helped, but my wife is alive and that’s what gave us the idea to start the business,” Charles said.

Massachusetts legitimized the black market when it approved recreational marijuana, but also effectively kept it alive by not providing a quick and clear path to legalized retail sales. And the longer politicians drag out the process of creating tax and licensing legislation, the more demand will grow without any legitimate outlet.

Even seemingly chill spots like Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing can’t break entirely away from the risk. Charles Christian’s marijuana source, for example, is a closely-held secret. “I can’t tell that,” he says at the press conference. “It would be stupid and dangerous.” For anyone without a medical card, revealing where he or she picked up weed is stupid and dangerous, but that should have changed Dec. 15, 2016.

Massachusetts needs to do more to clean up this stupid, dangerous mess of marijuana law, so we don’t end up shuttering more entrepreneurs and denying weed to people who don’t have the ability or time to get a medical marijuana card. It’s what the voters clearly want, and it’s up to their elected representatives to respond.

Kristin Palpini can be contacted at editor@valleyadvocate.com.

Kristin Palpini

Author: Kristin Palpini

Editor of the Valley Advocate

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