There's No Smoke in the Eyes of Would-Be Medicinal Pot Shopkeepers

Friday, March 14, 2014

I know plenty of people who smoke pot or who used to smoke it.  But I have never known anyone who used marijuana for medicinal purposes or even expressed an interest in medicinal pot.

When Massachusetts voters approved a November, 2012, ballot question legalizing the possession and use of marijuana for the treatment of various medical conditions, I figured the demand for the stuff would be fairly small.  I thought that some existing pharmacies would sell it, and that it would become a minor sideline for them.
Little did I know that we the voters -- Yes, I was for it – had set the stage for a new multi-million-dollar industry featuring elaborate, indoor pot farms and a string of new retail outlets around the state selling only medicinal marijuana.  These outlets are called Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMDs).

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has been authorized by law to license up to 35 RMDs, all of which must be constituted legally as non-profit organizations.
When the DPH announced the award of provisional licenses to 20 RMDs a few weeks ago, some hell broke loose because of who was chosen and how the DPH selection committee applied the licensing criteria.  The fact that Bill Delahunt, former Norfolk DA and a retired Congressman, is affiliated with the organizations that won three provisional licenses rattled a lot of folks.  Some powerful figures on Beacon Hill are now saying the DPH should do over parts of the licensing process or all of it.

I haven’t looked into the details enough to form an opinion on whether the process was so flawed as to require the invalidation of the results.  However, I happen to know one of the seven persons on the selection committee, Cheryl Anne Sbarra, senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.  She’s a scrupulously honest and fair person.  Because of Cheryl’s presence, I’m inclined to believe the process was as sound as anything this new and complex could be.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have misgivings about voting to legalize medicinal marijuana.  I wonder about all the people and resources chasing the limited number of RMD licenses.  There were 100 organizations in the hunt.  The smart money must smell a bonanza.  If the margins in peddling pot were not so great, would the competition for the licenses have been as intense?   Would the protests from some of the losing bidders been as loud?

I don’t know what the typical RMD will charge for an ounce of grass, but they’re obviously planning on selling a lot of grass. 
Take Bay State Relief, Inc., one of the fortunate 20 provisional licensees.  On its application, Bay State Relief said it anticipated revenues totaling $4,838,314 in the first year of operation.  It also said its first- year expenses would be $4,911,393, meaning they’d lose $73,079. Imagine someone ringing up $4.8 million in legal pot sales in little old Milford, Massachusetts, which is where Bay State Relief intends to locate, at 13 Commercial Way.

Here’s another interesting example from the ranks of the winning bidders.  Brighton Health Advocates, Inc., doing business as Compassionate Care Clinics, said on its application that it expects sales to total $5,051,537 in the first year, and that its net profit, or margin, as they like to say in the non-profit world, would be $1,883,298.  This particular Compassionate Care Clinic will be set up at 132 Alden Road, Fairhaven.
One may infer that droves of Massachusetts residents will be heading to physicians’ offices soon, clamoring for medical marijuana prescriptions.  I could well be among them; the stress at work has been killing me lately.

A doctor must certify that I suffer from a debilitating medical condition before I can get my weed.  According to the DPH, the law specifies those conditions as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis “and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”   That last part seems a large enough loophole for most of us to stumble through.  What could be more common than debilitating stress in our post-Great Recession, flat-wages, dog-eat-dog world economy?
Another thing that’s got me wondering are the “Heyyyyyy, Man” names so many of these dispensaries are going by.  It’s like they hired Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K. Dick to dream them up. 

A few of the winning licensees have marvelously mellow monikers, like Good Chemistry of Massachusetts and Garden Remedies.  And some of the losing bidders aren’t bad either in the category of California Dreamin’.  I’m talking about you, A New Leaf Dispensary.
If bringing medicinal marijuana to the masses were such a serious undertaking, shouldn’t our elected officials and regulators have insisted that the dispensaries adopt more sober names?  Had it been up to me, there would have been none of this whimsy and suggestions of “compassion.”  I would have imposed Soviet-style dullness on the system.  Each one of the dispensaries would have a number: RMD No. 1, RMD No. 2, etc., based on the order in which their names were drawn from an empty marijuana planter.

I can’t get over how much money is going to be changing hands in this new “industry.” 
The other day I was talking with a friend about this.  “I can’t believe it, Mike,” I said.  “A hundred companies went to an incredible amount of time and trouble, not to mention expense, trying to get one of these licenses.  I can’t believe there’s enough pent-up demand for this kind of ‘medicine’ to justify all that.”  

Mike has invested in real estate and in retail businesses for years, with notable success.  He was glad to open my eyes. 
“Don’t you get it?” he said.  “These people know that medical marijuana is the first, necessary step on the road to legalization of pot possession for recreational use.  This is the way the whole country is going.  Most people don’t see much difference between having a couple of drinks and smoking a joint.  If you get one of these dispensary licenses, which come with the obligation to have a source of cleanly cultivated pot in Massachusetts, you’ll be sitting pretty a few years from now when we make it legal to have a small quantity of grass on you.  These are the liquor marts of the next generation.  Who wouldn’t want in on that?”







1 comment:

Unknown said...

And I thought Preti was someone's first name.
Tom Minahan

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