Should recreational marijuana businesses be allowed to operate in Massachusetts during the pandemic?

Read two views and vote in our online poll.


David O’Brien

President & CEO, Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association; Concord resident

David O'Brien
David O'BrienCasey Photography

Adult-use cannabis dispensaries not only play an important role in providing medical treatment for our state’s veterans and others who cannot or choose not to register as medical cannabis patients, but also provide employment for thousands and millions in state tax revenue. Medical cannabis dispensaries have been allowed to safely stay open with strict social distancing protocols in place. Adult-use shops should be able to do the same.

Many adult-use dispensaries’ customers purchase cannabis to relieve the symptoms of medical conditions. Veterans in particular rely on adult-use shops, since US Veterans Administration doctors cannot prescribe them cannabis due to its federal illegality, and many veterans may eschew the state’s medical program out of fear they will lose their federal health benefits. In other cases, veterans or other patients who do not have a qualifying condition under the medical program have come to rely on adult-use stores for treatment options that are regulated, effective, and less addictive than prescription pharmaceuticals, like opioids.

Apart from limiting access to patients, the governor’s closure hurts the state’s 300 licensed cannabis businesses — who collectively have opened 38 retail dispensaries — and the more than 3,200 employees whose jobs are now in jeopardy. Their work in the cannabis sector disqualifies these businesses, who operate within the law and pay taxes, from federal financial aid from the Small Business Association.cq Without this assistance, many may be forced to shut down as a result of the pandemic.


And at a time of economic uncertainty, adult-use dispensaries have the potential to provide revenue when Massachusetts needs it the most. During the first year of adult-use legalization, dispensaries generated over $80 million in taxes and were projected to bring in between $93 million and $172 million in 2020 — revenue that should be used to support critical public services that we all rely on as budgets are stretched to their limits.


While I understand that Governor Charlie Baker may believe he is protecting public health by closing adult-use dispensaries, I urge him to consider how this is hurting our friends, family, and neighbors who rely on these businesses for their livelihood and to lead healthier and more productive lives.


Judith Margulies

Pharmacologist with 30 years of professional experience in public health; executive director of Cambridge health consulting firm; Ashland resident

Judith Margulies
Judith Margulies

The pain felt by the people of Massachusetts is embodied in the eerie, empty parking lots all along what were prior to the current Covid-19 crisis our bustling retail strips. In these unsure times when so many are suffering, taxpayer money is needed to assist valued, longstanding businesses that are part of the neighborhood fabric. Conversely, this is not the time for the state to prioritize supporting the fledgling Massachusetts marijuana industry that is at risk of being dominated by well-financed, multi-state operators.

With the oversight of the Massachusetts recreational marijuana industry in its infancy, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission has much work yet to do. It is rash to let marijuana growers, processors, and retailers move to the front of the line of the gradual reopening of Massachusetts businesses. And it is irresponsible and shortsighted to place additional demands inherent to local oversight of marijuana sales on our already overwhelmed local police and health departments.


For Governor Charlie Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board,cq the question is who should be first in line for scarce financial and social resources in a time of pandemic. For instance, health care professionals, first responders, and other frontline workers are scrambling for personal protective equipment. Yet, if the marijuana industry succeeds in being deemed essential, its employees in greenhouses and the like who even before the pandemic were at risk from handling allergenic, often moldy plants would need access to these same items.

The public has not been adequately informed about the health risks of reopening the marijuana industry. The National Institute on Drug Abuse warned that because it attacks the lungs, COVID-19 “could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” Using marijuana products can also suppress the immune system and exacerbate mental health issues.

Having listened to a recent podcast, I know of individuals who have worked for a large Massachusetts marijuana company who claim industry failures to provide safe working conditions, enforce environmental standards, adequately test consumer products, and safeguard hazardous, combustible materials.

The governor is right. Recreational marijuana is not essential.

To the industry, I say, stop trying to cut the line.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.