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Massachusetts Dispensaries Sue Governor Over Recreational Shutdown

April 14, 2020

A group of cannabis retailers in Massachusetts is suing Governor Charlie Baker to reinstate recreational cannabis sales after the state’s mandatory shutdown order forced them to close. The lawsuit stems from the executive orders Baker issued in response to the ongoing pandemic, which allowed medical cannabis dispensaries to continue operations but closed all recreational establishments, a distinction no other state has made.

The plaintiffs include the retailers CommCan, The Green Lady Dispensary, Ascend Mass, MassGrow, and Slang. Joining them is Iraq War veteran Stephen Mandile, whose chronic pain and PTSD led to prescriptions for more than 50 drugs, according to the complaint, including methadone, Oxycontin, Percocet, and fentanyl, among others. Adverse side effects led him to cannabis, which eventually proved effective enough to allow him to give up all but one of the prescriptions and became “an essential part of his medical treatment.” Mandile, now the founder of nonprofit Alternative Treatment for Veterans, relies on adult-use retail because he lives more than an hour from a medically licensed store.

The Green Lady Dispensary is the only cannabis proprietor on the island of Nantucket, putting them in a unique situation amid the coronavirus quarantine. “All residents are sheltering in place on the island and ferry service has been strictly limited, so no one can leave the island to get their medicine,” Green Lady co-owner Nicole Campbell tells SND. “Many people use cannabis for medical reasons but do not get a medical card, and there are many legitimate reasons for this, especially on Nantucket. For instance, there are presently no doctors on the island prescribing medical cards.”

Campbell also questioned the decision to prohibit recreational cannabis sales while continuing to allow beverage alcohol sales, a sentiment echoed by Ellen Rosenfeld, president of CommCan. Rosenfeld says that situation creates a galling double standard, especially because Massachusetts’ 2016 law legalizing recreational cannabis specifically equates its regulations with those governing beverage alcohol.

Rosenfeld, who runs CommCan with her brothers Marc and Jon, estimates that the business has lost 90% of its revenue since the shutdown went into effect on March 24. The company has a shuttered recreational location in Millis, Massachusetts and a medical-only outlet in Southborough, owing to the town’s ban on recreational sales. The Massachusetts market has been in a period of rapid expansion since recreational sales began, leading to larger payrolls and complicating the finances of these companies.

“We had a handful of employees in the medical days, but now that recreational sales have opened up I have ten times that number,” Rosenfeld said. “I’m in the process of expanding our cultivation facility to accommodate the new market. I had fewer than 20 employees for medical and I have 100 now. To pull the rug out from under us—we can’t go back to the medical business model.” CommCan has not enacted any layoffs, due in large part to the cushion provided by the spike in sales in the days leading up to the closure.

Preliminary arguments in the case are set to begin this afternoon in Suffolk Superior Court. Governor Baker’s office could not be reached for comment.—Danny Sullivan

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