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Mass. marijuana regulator joins fight to allow recreational pot stores to reopen

Shaleen Title, a commissioner with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, speaks during a meeting of the commission in February in Worcester.
Shaleen Title, a commissioner with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, speaks during a meeting of the commission in February in Worcester.Steven Senne/Associated Press

A Massachusetts cannabis commissioner called on Governor Charlie Baker on Monday to allow recreational marijuana stores to reopen, deeming them an essential business alongside medical dispensaries amid the spread of coronavirus.

Last week, Baker required all non-essential businesses in Massachusetts to close until at least April 7, but allowed medical dispensaries to stay open, saying they will be “treated for all intents and purposes the same way we treat healthcare operations.”

He said he decided to close adult-use marijuana operations because they draw “a ton of traffic" from other nearby states.

But cannabis Commissioner Shaleen Title said Monday that the same measures put in place to keep customers safe at medical dispensaries — like social distancing in line and enhanced sanitization efforts among employees — could be applied to adult-use stores.

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The commission has taken additional steps in the past couple weeks to cut down the in-person contact needed to obtain marijuana products in the state. The agency is temporarily allowing new medical marijuana patients to be certified via telehealth (rather than requiring in-person appointments) and allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to offer curbside or at-the-door pickup.

“I believe those same measures, potentially along with a restriction on out-of-state customers, could be applied to adult-use facilities to allow for resumed operations,” Title said in a statement. “Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes.”

Title is part of a group of cannabis advocates, doctors, veterans, and consumers who published their plea Monday for Baker to reconsider his order. They include Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital; Will Luzier, who managed the 2016 campaign for legalization in Massachusetts; Dr. Marion McNabb, CEO of the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network; and Iraq War veteran Stephen Mandile, who was one of Massachusetts’ first adult-use marijuana customers.

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Shanel Lindsay, an attorney who is a member of the Cannabis Control Commission Advisory Board, was also part of the group, and asked Baker’s administration to consider all the cannabis consumers who rely on the plant for medicinal purposes but have chosen not to get a medical marijuana card.

“Getting a medical card in MA is hundreds-of-dollars expensive – and it places patients on a list that many rightfully fear puts them at risk of losing their jobs, homes, or children," she said in the statement. “Though advocates have fought so admirably over the years to remove barriers so that all patients can be treated as such, we already know that, especially in underserved communities, the level of registered patients is far below the actual number of those who use and consume this plant for medical purposes.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.