MA: Milford Marijuana Businesses Look To What’s Next After Vote

Photo Credit: Art Illman

With the future of their businesses in Milford secured, owners of local facilities that test and grow marijuana say they will now move toward incorporating recreational marijuana into their current medical-based operations.

In fact, for ProVerde Laboratories, which tests the drug, that has already begun.

Christopher Hudalla, founder and chief scientific officer, said the Fortune Boulevard lab has tested recreational, or adult-use, marijuana since the beginning of the year.

Hudalla has also submitted an application for a state license to continue to do so once the recreational marijuana industry takes shape later this year, he said.

But so far, there has not been a substantial amount of new business for ProVerde, which previously tested marijuana solely for medical purposes.

“There’s over 100 dispensaries that are in the queue,” Hudalla said Wednesday – a day after 73.1 percent of Milford voters opted to allow his business and Sira Naturals, which grows medical marijuana, to enter the recreational market while banning any others from coming to town.

“My guess is that the revenue increase will be very subtle and gentle until a year from now,” he added.

Tuesday’s vote capped a period of uncertainty after residents backed a complete ban on recreational marijuana shops last September.

The measure would have restricted both ProVerde and Sira Naturals from working with recreational marijuana and therefore would have crippled their ability to remain competitive and could have forced them to leave Milford, their owners have said.

In October, Town Meeting members backed a compromised bylaw to allow them to expand beyond medical marijuana, although that proposal was not solidified until voters approved it this week.

The whole process brought out deep divisions between residents over the future of the marijuana industry in town.

At times, owners of both businesses found themselves advocating alongside different groups: once against a complete ban, and later for an amended measure that critics claimed gave ProVerde and Sira Naturals an unfair monopoly.

For Hudalla, a Milford resident who often speaks as an expert in his field, the criticism and accusations were hurtful.

“I take it very personally,” he said. “I’m actually very hurt. …They haven’t listened to my passion for this industry.”

Michael Dundas, president and CEO of Sira Naturals, said his company is very gratified voters upheld the Town Meeting vote, and he hopes the town can now work with a common goal.

“I think that the compromise that we reached was a genuine one and I hope that we can now move forward,” he said Thursday.

With 55 employees in its 13 Commercial Way facility, Sira Naturals grows marijuana for its Cambridge, Somerville and Needham dispensaries.

As the business moves into the recreational market, not much will change in its production operations, Dundas said.

What will differ is the potency of marijuana-infused, edible products, since those for medical use contain a higher dosage, he said.

“In the short term, not much is going to change. We have yet to see the final (state) regulations … and anything that we may or may not do will be dependent upon how those regulations are written.”

The company intends to apply for either a marijuana cultivator, product manufacturer or research facility license – or more than one from those three categories, according to a notice for a meeting it will hold at 7 p.m. on March 15 in Milford Town Hall.

Representatives will present information on Sira Naturals’ facility: how it will be secured; how it will prevent minors from getting their hands on the products; and a plan that will benefit the community, the notice said.

At October’s Town Meeting, the company proposed a Host Community Agreement to give the town $250,000 a year to cover school programs, fight the opioid epidemic and support public safety – an offer Dundas confirmed Thursday it intends to follow through on.

“We will initiative discussions with the Board of Selectmen shortly,” he wrote in a text message.

When the Massachusetts marijuana industry begins to take root this summer, Hudalla said some of the new provisions will benefit his business.

New Department of Public Health regulations will recognize ProVerde as an agent of the state.

The laboratories currently have to register with medical marijuana dispensaries, which essentially makes ProVerde employees an extension of those businesses – a designation Hudalla called cumbersome and unfair.

“My loyalty or responsibility is to the state, not the person who is testing, which is the way it should be,” he said of the forthcoming regulations.

As for the marijuana industry’s future in Milford, Hudalla doesn’t think it’s nonexistent.

Voters can always change their minds.

“It’s not over. It is for a year, but I think it will be revisited soon,” he said. “When … the Town of Milford sees what happening in Franklin, when Franklin is generating millions of dollars in revenue … people are in Milford are going to be like, ‘Where’s my share in that?’ ”