Not much happens in the Massachusetts marijuana world that Michael Latulippe doesn’t hear about. As president of the Cannabis Society, a large network of pot enthusiasts that organizes events, and development director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which represents medical marijuana patients in the state, Latulippe stands at the intersection of patients, politicians, growers, consumers, and lobbyists. Latulippe recently spoke with the Globe about his drug-fueled adolescence in Florida, his stint as a website developer in Silicon Valley, and his shift from marijuana user to marijuana advocate and powerbroker.
1) At 15, Latulippe says he fell in with his high school’s druggie crowd, experimenting with marijuana and psychedelics. That didn’t go over well with his more conservative parents, but he said he found refuge at the house of a close friend whose guardians were “old hippies from California.”
“People four or five years younger were part of the party/protest crowd in the 1960s, but my parents missed that boat. I can remember my dad breaking my bong on at least one — actually, two — occasions. But at my friend’s house, it was cool to smoke. The hippies didn’t mind at all — in fact, they encouraged it. This is when I started to discover that cannabis wasn’t really a bad thing. Eventually, it became the only drug I would use, because it was always the healing thing you would use to come off the others.”
2) Angered by Al Gore’s dramatic loss in the 2000 presidential election, Latulippe enrolled at the University of Central Florida to study pre law. He eventually graduated with a degree in political science, but said his law classes taught him valuable skills he still uses.
“My thinking after the election was, If I’m going to make change or be effective in any sense, I have to become an attorney. Studying constitutional law had a big effect on me. It made me unafraid to read legal language and interpret it, which became really important more recently when I started working on the Massachusetts medical marijuana statute. In order to argue with DPH [Department of Public Health, which oversees the medical marijuana program], I had to actually know what the law said so I could start making forceful arguments. Other advocates were saying what they wanted, but I could tell there was real statutory construct to base those arguments off of, and I understood what it was realistic to ask for.”
3) After college, Latulippe moved to New Hampshire and began to work for a friend on Web development and search engine optimization. Later, he started his own Web company in California, where he moved after deciding not to return from a vacation.
“I went to California on a whim. I had a return flight booked, but when I got there, it was like paradise. It was sunny every day, there were flowers everywhere, and everybody had lots and lots of pot. My friend had jars — trash bags! — full of bud. I let my ticket back expire.”
4) In California, Latulippe got involved in formal cannabis advocacy for the first time, joining the San Francisco chapter of medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access. The experience taught him two things, he said: that the drug could be an effective treatment for ill patients, and that the marijuana community could be just as political and nasty as any other.
“I was exposed to people who were shaking from a movement disorder, smoked pot, and all of a sudden were completely normal. It became clear to me that this was really a medicine. But I was also exposed to some of the kookiest people. At the time, there was no licensure for dispensaries in California, and they all hated each other and were competing with each other. There was no industry association. It was cutthroat.”
5) In 2015, after moving to Massachusetts and joining the MPAA patient group, Latulippe bought multiple Web domains, or URL addresses, that were coveted by a group advancing a ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana. He essentially held them hostage until the group released the full text of its proposed law, so advocates could assess how it might affect medical marijuana patients.
“I bought up all the names I knew they wanted and put up my own site. I even had pictures with a bunch of their members from Cannabis Society events. People told me to ask them for a lot of money, but I didn’t think that was appropriate. I ended up giving them the domains as a donation after I got what I wanted, which was to see the full text. They included me in the process after that.”