MA: Marijuana Interests Get First Chance To Cash In If Voters OK Recreational Use


First in line to cash in if recreational use of pot is approved in Massachusetts, medical-marijuana interests are helping to bankroll the campaign to get voters to say “yes” at the ballot box.

Voters in November will decide whether to legalize the drug’s regulated growth for recreational use – four years after they legalized medical marijuana and eight years after they decriminalized recreational marijuana.

Last year, the pro-legalization ballot committee received a total of $268,728, including many sizable donations from the medical-marijuana industry.

The ballot committee, though, insists that these are not “corporate interests.”

The ballot question, submitted by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, asks voters whether the growth, taxation, regulation and sale of recreational marijuana should become legal in the state.

If voters say yes, marijuana likely will become a lucrative industry in Massachusetts within a few years, as it has in Colorado, the first state to legalize the drug’s recreational use.

According to one provision of the question, medical-marijuana facilities would have a head-start in the recreational-pot industry because they would be able to apply for retail licenses in October 2017, while others would have to wait until 2018. That piece, opponents argue, has resulted in much of the fundraising for the pro-legalization group.

The Campaign for a Safe & Healthy Massachusetts, the group opposing legalization, wrote in an Aug. 3 press release that the ballot question was written “by and for the marijuana industry,” and the medical-marijuana provision is a good example. The anti-legalization group has been arguing for months that the question favors “Big Marijuana” and corporate interests.

But Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said that’s “absurd.”

“Most of the donors are individual donors,” he said. “There are some from medical-marijuana concerns, but not many.”

Borghesani added that some donors invested in medical marijuana “out of philosophical outlook,” and “think it’s the right public policy decision” to legalize the drug for recreational use.

According to the donation reports from the pro-legalization campaign, some 2015 donors, like Cambridge resident Greg Jobin-Leeds and Boston resident Susan Ruiz, are simply private citizens invested in the cause, as Borghesani said.

But many others, especially larger donors, are people or organizations that could benefit financially from legalization.

Cumulatively, they’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, according to reports filed with the state Office for Campaign and Political Finance.

Twenty-five of 32 donors in 2015 who gave $1,000 or more had some connection with the medical-marijuana industry, whether as CEOs of facilities, attorneys who specialize in medical-marijuana industry cases, or laboratories that conduct testing on medical marijuana.

Donors of $1,000 or more include Steve Angelo, executive director of a medical-marijuana organization; Charles Smith, a Boston-based cannabis-industry consultant; the Beacon Compassion Center, an organization pursuing two dispensary sites; and Dorian Des Lauriers, the CEO of medical-marijuana testing laboratory ProVerde Labs.

Geoffrey Reilinger, the founder and CEO of a medical-marijuana organization looking to open a manufacturing facility in Fitchburg, said his organization has not donated to the pro-legalization campaign because “we’re entirely about medical marijuana, and I don’t want to confuse our mission.”

“My personal opinion is that marijuana legalization will increase access for people who might not be entirely comfortable going through the rigorous process of getting a medical card, like a federal government employee, for instance,” he said. “But we haven’t given any money to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.”

Reilinger is the CEO of Compassionate Organics, an organization planning for an Allston dispensary and a growing facility on Newport Street in Fitchburg.

His mother, Elizabeth, who is a member of the Compassionate Organics board of directors, donated $500 to the pro-legalization campaign, but Reilinger said it was not on behalf of the organization.

“She’s probably trying to be generally supportive” of the legalization campaign, he said.

Reilinger acknowledged that the medical-marijuana industry will benefit if recreational marijuana becomes legal, but said the reason behind this is “not sinister.”

“It’s because medical marijuana has to be vertically integrated, and the growing and manufacturing facilities cost millions of dollars,” he said.

Giving the medical facilities some time to sell recreationally, before dozens of “pot shops” that are much less expensive to start, is a way to ensure that medical-marijuana investors get a return on that investment.

Reilinger said people have asked him if he will sell marijuana for recreational use if it becomes legal.

“That’s a hypothetical, but if my patients demand that, I will,” he said.

Asked what the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Massachusetts uses donations for, Borghesani said they fund voter outreach and creation of promotional materials to “get the message out.”

It’s especially important for the campaign to get out its message to as many voters as possible because the opposition has extensive, public support from elected officials around the state, he said.

Last week, 118 state legislators signed a letter in opposition to the ballot question, including local Democratic state Sens. Jen Flanagan and Anne Gobi, Democratic state Reps. Stephan Hay, Jon Zlotnik, Jennifer Benson, Dennis Rosa and Hank Naughton, and Republican state Rep. Sheila Harrington.

Comparatively, only 10 state legislators, including Democratic Sen. Jamie Eldridge along with several Boston city councilors, have come out in favor of legalization.

But Borghesani said “people don’t decide based on legislators.”

“All these same legislators were against decriminalization and were all against medical marijuana in 2012, and both of those measures passed overwhelmingly,” he said.

As long as the pro-legalization campaign can reach voters, Borghesani said, “voters will decide on the facts before them.”

As far as who might be donating to the opposing side, Borghesani said they don’t know.

Because the Campaign for a Safe & Healthy Massachusetts was formed in April 2016, the organization has not yet been required to file reports with the Office for Campaign and Political Finance.

In other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, big donors to the opposition have included for-profit correctional facilities, corrections’ officers unions and pharmaceutical companies.

On Sept. 8, 60 days before the election, the Campaign for a Safe & Healthy Massachusetts will be required to file reports of their donation receipts and expenditures.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medical-Marijuana Interests Will Get First Chance To Cash In If Massachusetts Voters OK Recreational Use
Author: Anna Burgess
Contact: (978) 343-6911
Photo Credit: David McNew
Website: Sentinel & Enterprise