Officials are urged: Don’t stigmatize medical marijuana

Oct 15, 2018

MATTAPOISETT — Only one resident spoke out on the Mattapoisett Planning Board’s Draft Medical Marijuana Bylaw at the public forum on medical marijuana on Monday night, but his comments added a different perspective on medical marijuana and its users. Dick Morgado pushed planning board members to consider safety features, and how their bylaw may unintentionally stigmatize medical marijuana facilities.

The current draft bylaw is based on state statutes and outlines the permitting process that medical marijuana facilities must go through, giving the town some control over any business that may want to set up shop. It also prohibits medical marijuana facilities from being near a school, childcare facility, place of worship, or any other location that might enable minors to use the facility. However, Morgado called that into question. 

“Let me be transparent. I don’t use [medical marijuana]. But my 40 year old daughter does. She has a disability and the cannabis cream and the ointment provides a better life for her. I also had a friend who died of cancer last year. He used it. These people are not bad people.” 

Morgado does not want minors to be able to access marijuana products, but called on the board to consider the customer experience when using medical marijuana facilities. 

“My daughter has a prescription and a license to purchase it.” Morgado explained. “She walks into the building, they lock the door behind her. She has to slip her money into a little slot. So just being there you feel like you’re in prison. If we can eliminate that in the bylaw, I think anyone who uses it would appreciate that.” 

Planning Board member Karen Field challenged Morgado to think of other suitable places for a facility in town. He said he had not considered in depth how to change the bylaw, but proposed something like separating the retail aspect of medical marijuana businesses from cultivation and processing and possibly regulating them with a separate bylaw. For a retail location, he proposed opening one along Route 6.

He is primarily concerned about safety in the industrial park.  

“I wouldn’t want my daughter going up there on a winter night at 5 o’clock with no streetlights on Industrial Drive,” Morgado said. He explained that his daughter buys the cream she uses in another town, and “even in Newton where she goes to purchase it, there are people who keep an eye out for [customers] with large amounts of cash.”

Morgado tried to illustrate the stigma around the business by comparing it to the widespread acceptance of package stores.

“I don’t think — and correct me if I’m wrong — we have a bylaw that places those restrictions on liquor establishments,” Morgado said. 

“It is a medical product and you have to jump through hoops to use it, and you don’t get high on the marijuana,” he said. So in the end, “it’s a stigma that somehow little kids can’t see people buy medicine.”

Board member Janice Robbins acknowledged that Morgado’s safety concerns were valid.

“The committee has discussed this issue of it being dark and secluded,” she said. But “the overriding consensus was a desire to limit the area where this could be produced and sold.” 

She called in an expert opinion from the chief of police when she added that, “Mary Lyons was actually on our committee and she is supportive of what we came up with for a bylaw. She feels that it is secure enough.” 

Board members also pointed out that at the facilities themselves they can regulate the lighting through the permit process. 

Committee Chair Thomas Tucker explained the committee’s thought process. 

“The whole purpose is to get something on the books,” he said. Although the planning board did not know of any facilities that plan to operate in Mattapoisett at this time, Tucker pointed out that a manufacturer or retailer could come in and do anything right now because there are currently no bylaws.

“You can always contest a bylaw after it’s been approved,” he said to Morgado.