Dozens of cannabis advocates rallied at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday to refute a public health group’s criticisms of the state’s newly regulated marijuana industry.
The crowd held signs that read: “Weed’s not new,” “Empower our communities,” and “Cannabis equity is non-negotiable.” The audience cheered as researchers, clinicians, a state regulator, and people harmed by the war on drugs spoke in support of the current regulations and new ones they hope will be approved this summer, such as the creation of cannabis cafe licenses.
“If we had social consumption lounges, I wouldn’t have to do this,” advocate Peter Bernard said as he lifted a joint to his lips with a showman’s flair, sparked it, and inhaled. “Damn, that’s good.”
The rally was organized by the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network in response to a statement issued recently by the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, which was signed by 40 local doctors and scientists. The letter said marijuana is far more harmful than many people believe and can increase consumers’ risks for psychosis, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. It called for an indefinite delay to social consumption and home delivery — two license types that state regulators are considering adding.
The statement also called for a pause of licensing new pot stores to review the state’s social equity program, which the group described as targeting minority neighborhoods for pot shops. But, as regulators replied, the program aims to help entrepreneurs from communities with high rates of marijuana arrests start their own businesses anywhere in the state.
“Entrepreneurs like myself who have been arrested for weed in our youth intend to employ dozens of oppressed people [hurt] by the war on drugs,” said Chauncy Spencer, a social equity applicant from Dorchester. This, he said, “will be a small start to addressing the lack of true self-determination denied to our community.”
Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title, who helped craft the social equity program, thanked the crowd for showing “when prohibitionists try and have a big publicity stunt, that it doesn’t work.”
“Everything is going to be evidence-based,” Title said, of the commission’s approach to regulating cannabis. She said she has consulted with faculty at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital who aren’t interested in publicity or “Prohibition 2.0,” and who “want patients and consumers to be treated like the legal, normal people that we are.”
Doctors who have found cannabis helpful for their patients criticized the prevention alliance’s narrow stance on the drug, which they said can pose risks to people with family histories of mental illness, but offers far more people life-changing benefits.
Dr. Eric Ruby, a Taunton pediatrician, said he has recommended cannabis — and seen positive results — for more than 300 children since 2014 for conditions such as anxiety, pain, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, nausea, anorexia, and muscle spasticity. One boy with autism, he said, finally enjoys going outdoors. (Minors in Massachusetts can only obtain medical marijuana if two doctors, including a pediatrician, recommend it.)
Ruby’s interest in cannabis grew after his son found relief from severe neuropathic pain resulting from a car accident. He had previously been on opioids and suicidal.
“Cannabis saved my son’s life,” Ruby said. Doctors on both sides want public health improvements and should unite to pressure the federal government to fund research, he said. “Dogma on either side do not further the cooperation needed to encourage scientific inquiry.”