Massachusetts should allow marijuana home delivery — and for five years grant those business licenses only to small companies and people from communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs, a state panel voted Thursday.
The near-unanimous vote by the Cannabis Advisory Board was an effort to redress the historically high rate of pot arrests among black and Hispanic people and help them join a capital-intensive industry dominated by well-heeled corporations.
“It’s certainly not just selling widgets or selling soda,” said Shanel Lindsay, a cannabis businesswoman and minority advocate. “We’re selling a product that . . . has been used as a tool to disenfranchise our families, take our parents from us, take our children from us, and take our opportunities from us.”
The recommendation of the diverse 25-member board — which includes businessowners, activists, police, and health experts — carries no legal weight. But it will be sent to the state Cannabis Control Commission to consider enacting this spring. The commission has a legal mandate to boost participation in the industry by diverse participants, including communities affected by racially unbalanced marijuana enforcement.
The vote came after the board’s public health and police members voiced concerns that marijuana delivery could increase pot access for children, lead to robberies of drivers, and send the message that the government promotes cannabis.
“The ballot initiative said we had to provide access — that didn’t mean access in every possible way,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, a substance abuse specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It becomes a fine line of the state becoming a supporter of marijuana . . . which I don’t think is in the interest of public health.”
Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael advocated for a system to verify the identities and ages of delivery customers before the sale occurs to prevent robberies. He said delivery drivers would likely carry cash, as cannabis’ federal illegality has prevented most banks from serving the industry.
Carmichael also said requiring delivery companies to be affiliated with a retail store would help oversight. That idea didn’t gain traction, though, and the board voted to recommend creating “delivery-only” licenses, meaning that deliverers could be independent from brick-and-mortar stores. Currently, the state’s only cannabis delivery licenses are held by medical marijuana dispensaries.
“The medical marijuana program has verified identity on the other end of that delivery, and that system has worked out well,” Carmichael said. Without those measures, he said, “People are going to get robbed. They’re going to get killed.”
But former Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, now CEO of the planned cannabis store Ascend, argued that policy shouldn’t be driven by the relatively few bad actors.
“The universal argument that ‘people will commit crimes, people will do bad things’ is not a reason for not making progress,” Cabral said. “If we used that argument for alcohol, we would not let people drink ever . . . because when they do, they tend to be violent.”
In the end, the board did recommend that in starting recreational pot delivery, the commission should repeat similar safety standards that govern medical marijuana delivery.
The board will meet again in upcoming weeks to vote on recommendations for licenses for social consumption, or cannabis “bars.” Last February, the commission voted to delay social consumption and delivery regulations for this year. Regulators also voted to initially prioritize those licenses exclusively for those disproportionately affected by unbalanced marijuana enforcement, micro-businesses, and co-ops.
The commission will hear public comment, debate, and vote on social consumption and delivery, along with other regulatory changes, this spring.