Mar­i­juana Shop­ping

Move to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana gains trac­tion in Con­necti­cut with elec­tion of La­mont as gov­er­nor

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Re­becca Lurye rlurye@courant.com

By Thanks­giv­ing, Mas­sachusetts may be sell­ing recre­ational pot.

The ap­proval of two in­de­pen­dent test­ing labs in Mas­sachusetts this week her­alds the start of recre­ational pot sales to the north, no later than Thanks­giv­ing, one dis­pen­sary says.

“This isn’t go­ing to get into next month,” says Nor­ton Ar­bal­aez, di­rec­tor of govern­ment af­fairs for New Eng­land Treat­ment Ac­cess, which has been plan­ning to sell adult-use mar­i­juana in Northamp­ton, Mass., for more than two years. “We’re right at the precipice of this.”

Res­i­dents of Mas­sachusetts and in its neigh­bors across New Eng­land have long awaited the first le­gal sales of recre­ational mar­i­juana — some­thing that gained trac­tion in Con­necti­cut this week with the elec­tion of Demo­crat Ned La­mont as gov­er­nor. La­mont strongly fa­vors le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana.

Mas­sachusetts de­cided in December 2016 to make grow­ing, pos­sess­ing and us­ing mar­i­juana le­gal, but the bud­ding in­dus­try slowed to a crawl as com­pa­nies worked through the com­plex reg­u­la­tory pro­gram and sought ap­provals from town gov­ern­ments. Now, Ar­bal­aez says the wait is in its fi­nal days.

That’s in part be­cause the Mas­sachusetts body that reg­u­lates mar­i­juana, the Cannabis Con­trol Com­mis­sion, gave autho­riza­tion Wed­nes­day for the first two in­de­pen­dent lab­o­ra­to­ries to be­gin test­ing non­med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

MCR Labs in Fram­ing­ham and CDX An­a­lyt­ics in Salem had to pass in­spec­tions, fin­ger­print lab agents and join Metrc, the state’s seed-to-sale track­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem. They can be­gin test­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana and mar­i­juana prod­ucts as early as Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to the CCC.

“That is cer­tainly one of the fi­nal pieces of the puzzle,” Ar­be­laez, of NETA, said. “We’re at the one-yard line here and we’re ex­cited to get up and run­ning.”

NETA is one of two dis­pen­saries await­ing a fi­nal in­spec­tion be­fore it can be­gin of­fer­ing recre­ational prod­ucts to cus­tomers. Over re­cent months, the com­pany has added close to 100 hires, for a to­tal of about 400 em­ploy­ees, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of cus­tomer de­mand.

The other dis­pen­sary, Cul­ti­vate Hold­ings LLC, also has a fi­nal busi­ness li­cense to sell non-med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Its re­tail shop is

lo­cated in Leicester.

Mas­sachusetts has is­sued eight other fi­nal busi­ness li­censes for grow­ing, prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing, trans­porta­tion, re­tail and test­ing of recre­ational mar­i­juana. An­other 64 pro­vi­sional li­censes are ap­proved.

In Con­necti­cut, nearly 30,000 peo­ple be­long to the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, up from 2,000 when it be­gan in 2014.

La­mont pre­dicts non-med­i­cal mar­i­juana could be­come le­gal within the first leg­isla­tive cy­cle.

Cur­rent penal­ties for mar­i­juana use are “un­evenly ap­plied,” dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect­ing peo­ple of color, he said dur­ing the cam­paign. Rev­enue from re­tail sales could also fund treat­ment for opi­oid de­pen­dency, he’s sug­gested.

The state leg­is­la­ture’s non-par­ti­san fiscal of­fice es­ti­mated sales would reach $30 mil­lion the first full year of le­gal­iza­tion.

La­mont floated the idea of fund­ing treat­ment for opi­oid de­pen­dency with rev­enues from re­tail mar­i­juana sales.

“I’ll reg­u­late it,” he said in Oc­to­ber. “I’ll be care­ful in terms of quality or po­tency. I think we know what we’re do­ing. It’s bet­ter than hav­ing the black mar­ket con­trol that.’’

A hu­mid­ity in­di­ca­tor rests in a bowl of a strain of cannabis called “Walker Kush” at the dis­pen­sary.

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