At Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Hearing In Holyoke, Chairman Asserts On Retail Marijuana, ‘We Are Going To Do This Right’

Photo Credit: Steve Brown

Massachusetts remains on schedule to offer legal recreational marijuana stores on July 1, the head of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission said Monday.

But growers are going to need their licenses much sooner than that or there won’t be any legal product on the shelves when those pot shops open, said David Caputo, of Positronic Farms in Holyoke.

At a public hearing on state recreational marijuana regulations the commission hosted at Holyoke Community College, Caputo asked for the application date for license to grow to be moved up to March instead of April 1.

“You have to build your facility, then you have to start your plants, then you vegetate your plants and then you have to put your plants into budding cycle,” Caputo said. “Then it takes at least 10 weeks for them to go through budding cycle to get finished. Then you have to harvest them and dry them and cure them which takes one to two weeks.

“So it literally takes three to four to five months from the day somebody gets a license before there is any product to sell,” Caputo said.

No legal product ready to sell means no sales and no tax revenue for the state, he said.

Caputo was one of the 150 or so people who attended the hearing on draft regulations released in December. State Reps. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, and John Velis, D-Westfield, were in attendance.

Voters approved legalized adult recreational consumption of marijuana in a November 2016 referendum.

Monday’s hearing was the second on a series of 10 public hearings planned by the Cannabis Control Commission. The next is Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, William B. Allen Community Room, 12 Olive St., Greenfield.

Steven J. Hoffman, commission chairman, said his panel is on track to get the stores open by the July 1 target date.

“That date is not written into statute. And it isn’t going to come down to doing this right or doing it quickly. We are going to do this right,” Hoffman said. “But we are on a pace to meet that target.”

Hoffman chaired the hearing with Commissioner Kay Doyle.

Caputo said he’s invested $600,000 and is looking for $400,000 in additional funding for his growing operation at 5-13 Appleton St. in Holyoke. He plans to grow there and distribute product to other shops.

“I know that Holyoke could use my 25 employees each making $25 an hour,” he said.

Entrepreneurs have looked to Holyoke — with its ample cheap hydropower for grow lights and water pumps and available industrial space in old mill buildings — as a good spot to set up commercial cannabis operations. Mayor Alex Morse has also been receptive to the industry.

Michael Kroboch, of Acton, said Massachusetts’ regulations on the whole are friendly for the mom-and-pop craft-style marijuana business he wants to create.

“We have seen in other states where the rules were written for the big corporations,” he said. “Massachusetts will allow for the small grower.”

Some speakers expressed concerns. Tina Lukasik, family outreach coordinator for the South Hadley Drug & Alcohol Prevention Coalition, worries about teens getting access to marijuana. The minimum age in Massachusetts for recreational marijuana is age 21.

But medical marijuana is available to those age 18 and up. What happens, she asked, when a medical dispensary and a recreational retail store are located in the same spot?

Constance Kruger, a member of the Amherst Select Board, said the college town she represents is likely to be impacted, and where and under what conditions to allow marijuana shops is a matter of some debate.

She said she’s also concerned that the small growers are protected.

Other speakers want restrictions on how marijuana is advertised — no cartoon characters, for instance.

Vega testified that marijuana operations should have local ties and local partners before they can open. The communities should get some business benefit over and above taxes.