Back on April 3rd, medical marijuana delivery became legally operational in the state of Massachusetts — though it’s far from a perfect ecosystem.
The success or failure of the medical marijuana industry in the Commonwealth, and delivery as a viable means of distribution on a lesser scale, will ultimately rely on a number of key variables including tax revenue and the elimination of the black market.
One of the factors at the fulcrum of the issue is the tax rate Massachusetts may eventually levy on medical (or recreational) delivery services. Currently, the state of Massachusetts does not tax sales of medical marijuana or any medicine.
The primary risk of implementing an unreasonably high tax on marijuana sales is that it may push patients back towards the black market in search of savings. Finding a balance where people are comfortable with price point and value the safety of a legal market is paramount.
Reducing the presence of the illegal cannabis market is essential to the growth of the legal marijuana as a whole, which in turn benefits local municipalities that stand to reap the benefits of a thriving new industry; it’s a point that local lawmakers and legalization advocates can both agree on. Unfortunately, Massachusetts passed a cannabis legalization bill in November that allows individual communities the right to block the legal marijuana industry from planting its roots within their borders on a case-by-case basis.
There are currently 108 communities in Massachusetts doing just that. The map above is categorized by which method each municipality is utilizing to ward off voter-approved cannabis legalization. An interactive version of the map will show you each town’s stance and what percentage of its voters supported Question 4.
Of the 108 municipalities working to ward off legalization in some way, 67 cities and towns (both in yellow) have instituted a moratorium on marijuana legalization in varying lengths, some indefinitely. The majority of voters in these 67 communities supported legalizing the plant.
Another 32 local governments (in red) enacted an outright ban on cannabis sales, licensing, cultivation, and distribution.
Six of the communities (in green) are using new zoning regulations to slow the onset of a legalized market, five of which are home to a majority of voters who supported an end to cannabis prohibition.
Last year, Massachusetts saw a record number of opioid-related fatalities, losing almost 2,000 lives to overdoses. While medical marijuana legalization has helped slow the epidemic in some states, many Massachusetts cities and towns only see the medical industry as a slippery slope to a recreational market, and push back on both as a result.
Brockton, Massachusetts-based dispensary In Good Health was the first to offer a legal delivery service back in April, boasting a menu full of products produced entirely from cannabis they grow in-house. The vertically integrated and state-approved home delivery service offers next-day drop offs to all locations in the state, save for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard due to restrictive cannabis guidelines on the ferry.
Currently, legal marijuana service in Massachusetts are relatively expensive when compared to some of the more established markets on the West Coast, but consider the issues with supply and demand in a brand new market. A newly legal delivery service at the onset will attract a wide range of new patients, especially when it is the only available legal option. Due to current regulations in the Commonwealth, In Good Health cannot use established suppliers and brands to supplement their own product line during times of increased demand. This means they must charge a premium for their product, plus a delivery fee commensurate with the statewide distance they’re willing to travel.
To get an idea of why Massachusetts lawmakers would want to stifle the flow of medical marijuana to homebound patients around the state, I asked David Noble, President of In Good Health, how his dispensary clientele differs from his typical delivery patient. Many Massachusetts residents or lawmakers may think that one very specific type of person is sitting at home ordering up delivery weed and pizza to see what shows up first, but that is simply not the case, according to the only service lawfully operating in the state.
Noble explained, “Massachusetts is very unique because our medical patient community is typically between fifty and ninety years old, an older population than you may initially think. We see a lot of cancer patients, MS patients, military veterans, and a lot of post-surgical patients who do not want to go back on opiates. Specifically, with our home delivery business, we are seeing primarily elderly and disabled patients. We also have a lot of patients that have difficulty getting to our dispensary, whether because of transportation or a disability. We had patients that used to try to come in here and it would take them twenty minutes to get out of their car. Those are the kind of patients who have been utilizing our home delivery service.”
To the critics of legal cultivation, distribution, and sales, as well as those who are calling to delay the onset of the market for more research on plant contents and pesticides, Noble assures naysayers, “On each batch, we’re required to a cannabinoid profile, a microbiological screen, a microtoxin screen, a heavy metals screen, and a pesticide screen. If we make a thousand cookies on a Monday, that is considered a batch. We would send out a representative sample of that batch to the lab and wait for the test results to come back. If the sample passes all five of the tests, we are then able to sell the batch of products to our patients. I’ve probably had around a thousand batches tested and each one has come back zeroes.”
Without reliable access to a medical marijuana delivery service, homebound patients will be left in the dark when it comes to quality, lab-tested medicine. While black market “caregivers” may offer lower prices than a state-approved legal option, there are simply too many risks in consuming a product with unknown origins, especially considering it may have been grown with harmful chemicals. A 2016 study by Steep Hill labs in Berkeley, California revealed that 84 percent of the medical marijuana samples they collected contained an alarming level of pesticides. While the State of Massachusetts bans the use of such pesticides in the cultivation of cannabis, the consumer can’t extend that expectation of quality to a product obtained on the black market.