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Experts discuss up-and-coming cannabis industry in Massachusetts

 

The Mass Marijuana Summit Wednesday morning featured a panel discussion on Massachusetts legalization at the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Center. PHOTO BY LILIAN LI/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Massachusetts Marijuana Summit brought together various government officials, legal experts and entrepreneurs to address concerns and opportunities for approximately 200 people involved in the marijuana industry Wednesday morning.

The State House News Service hosted the summit to provide stakeholders with a clearer picture of the current state of the medical and recreational marijuana sectors in relation to their interests, Russel Pergament, the managing partner of Affiliated News Services, said prior to the summit.

Steven Hoffman, the chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, opened the summit with an overview of his priorities in drafting industry regulations expected to be finalized in March 2018. He said it’s important to have the regulations done correctly.

“We need to get our job done right, not just on time,” Hoffman said. “It’s about finding a balance between accessibility on the one hand and public safety on the other hand. They’re both critical.”

The first panel, titled “Politics, regulation and local control,” included discussions about the effect of local and federal regulations on the marijuana industry.

Kamani Jefferson, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said during the panel he believes revenue tax projections are dependent on the effectiveness and accessibility of dispensary rollout throughout the state.

“We’re pretty sure people will convert to a legal source if it’s convenient, but they may not if they have to drive 45 miles to get to the nearest dispensary,” Jefferson said. “I think how quickly we have coverage across most of the state will go a long way in figuring out the revenue projections.”

In the long term, Jim Smith, founding partner at Smith, Costello and Crawford public policy law group, said he expects high tax revenues.

“I anticipate this will be a billion-dollar industry by 2020, and that depends very much on the rollout in communities,” Smith said. “Ultimately, it will be a multibillion dollar industry.”

The second panel, “Entrepreneurs at the crossroads,” provided advice to potential business owners for tackling challenges in the marijuana industry.

Meg Collins, vice president of public affairs at Good Chemistry, a company specializing in the production and sale of cannabis, said it is vital for entrepreneurs to work with the community before establishing their marijuana dispensary.

“If you want to be in the cannabis industry, if you want to be a community, you have to make that community comfortable with what you’re doing,” Collins said. “You have to make sure they understand that … we are a very heavily regulated industry.”

In regards to financing, Tim Keogh, the president and CEO of AmeriCann, Inc., a Colorado-based medical marijuana firm, said during the panel that receiving capital is a unique challenge in the marijuana space because it is still a young industry.

“There’s going to be inherent challenges in the industry,” Keogh said. “You’re going to have to meet with 10 times more investors than you would if you were doing a bicycle factory or a social media app.”

Keogh said succinctly pitching a strong idea is especially important to receiving an investment for a business in the marijuana industry.

“If you can nail those two things down, this is your skill set … and this is the issue you are going to address in the cannabis industry, therein lies the real value proposition that is going to help get you the investment,” Keogh said.

Several Massachusetts residents attending the summit said the information provided to them through the panels was helpful in navigating the up-and-coming industry.

Carol Mallia, 53, of Plymouth, and a member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the information she got at the summit inspired her to rethink her approach to advocating for nurse’s concerns.

“It gave me an update as to the timeline,” Mallia said. “We need to get nurses out at the public hearings.”

Mark Goldberg, 44, of South Weymouth, said the first panel clarified the stance the commission will take on balancing the interests of the new industry’s stakeholders.

“[It] did clarify a lot of questions in my mind or at least give indications as to where the different stances are in terms of the rollout of recreational [marijuana] as it relates to the commission,” Goldberg said. “The indications from the commission side is they’re going to strike a balance by not prioritizing the recreational licenses of the medical marijuana dispensaries by mere fact that it’s likely that those will be the only organizations that will be ready to go.”

Steven Byrne, 30, of Arlington, said he benefitted from the second panel’s discussion of marijuana industry regulations in other states.

“What we heard in the final panel about where regulations should be going and what we can learn from other states was really important,” Byrne said. “I’m involved with the Responsible Regulation Alliance … and so I think that’s something we’re particularly focused on, on making sure that we continue to learn and evolve from what we’re learning across the country.”

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