First Person

Making medical marijuana work in Massachusetts

Northampton lawyer Michael Cutler hopes to help entrepreneurs open the state’s first dispensaries.

Michael Cutler believes when pot is prohibited, it’s more accessible to kids. 
Eric Limon
Michael Cutler believes when pot is prohibited, it’s more accessible to kids. 

I came into contact with NORML [the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws] about 25 years ago and have worked with NORML’s lawyers committee in support of medical marijuana since California passed the first law in 1996. Until then I’d had the sense drugs were bad, even though marijuana didn’t seem that bad. But through working with NORML it became clear that MARIJUANA LAWS WERE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE and prohibition makes marijuana drastically more accessible, because it’s unregulated.

Since January 1, no qualified patient or doctor can be denied participation in the state’s medical marijuana program that MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS APPROVEDin November. The law allows for 35 outlets in the state’s 14 counties, with at least one per county. How the distribution works after that is all up to the state Department of Public Health, which has until May 1 to issue its regulations. Some kind of competition for licenses could open up in the summer, and by the fall those decisions could be made. Then the first dispensaries could begin to OPEN BY THE WINTER.

My law partner and I are representing people who want to go for one of the licenses to open dispensaries. In Arizona, which has a similar population to Massachusetts’s, the law provided for 126 dispensaries, and the state had nearly 500 applications. I suspect that level of COMPETITION WILL EXIST in Massachusetts as well, but for far fewer licenses.


We’re the 18th state to do this. WE’RE NOT REINVENTING THE WHEEL. But just in December, the first dispensaries opened in Arizona and New Jersey. You know when they passed their laws? In 2010.   — As told to James Cronin 

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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