Marijuana industry taking root in Fall River
FALL RIVER >>If you go to a hash bar in Amsterdam, your server will ask you first: What kind of high do you want?
Do you want your head to float? Do you want your body to feel no pain? Are you going dancing?
That, experts say, is a mature marijuana market.
A good portion of the country could be heading that way, soon. Massachusetts could be part of that crowd.
Voters will be asked in November if Massachusetts should make the recreational use of marijuana legal.
Four states and the District of Columbia currently ignore federal law prohibiting possessing or producing marijuana. Five states have the question on the ballot in November. There are 25 states, including Massachusetts, where medical marijuana is legally allowed.
In Fall River, ground has been broken for a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical facility dedicated to growing and processing marijuana for medicine.
Marijuana is here. It has always been here. Its use is steady and proof of its value, some proponents say, is growing every day. And those who advocate ending the prohibition against it say anti-marijuana laws are getting more and more difficult to justify.
If recreational marijuana is made legal in Massachusetts, "relatively little will happen, good bad or indifferent," said Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron.
"It will allow the state to collect tax revenues."
Legal marijuana will produce a whimper, not a bang, he said.
"People who suggest there will be a huge boom in use, there is no evidence to support that," Miron said. "All of the positive things are way overstated.
"The primary effect is that the people who want to consume marijuana will feel less stress."
That has been largely the case in Washington state, which made recreational use of marijuana legal in 2014.
"The experience here in Washington has been pretty good, though that depends on who you ask," said Sam Mendez, the executive director of the University of Washington Cannabis Law and Policy Project.
"The two largest concerns, nationwide, on legalization are access to children and drugged driving.
"On both of those issues, we haven't seen a serious increase."
The biggest issue is on hospital admissions by people who have gotten frightened after consuming too many edible cannabis products.
"It is a question of people not knowing their limits," Mendez said. Edible products take longer to take effect— often 30 to 90 minutes.
"If people are untrained, they might take some, wait, not feel anything and take more," Mendez said. Producers, he added, are responding to that by making the active ingredients in edibles more consistent and educating customers buying them.
"Obviously, they have an interest in making sure people have an enjoyable experience with their product," Mendez said.
Experience with a product becomes key as a marijuana market matures, both Mendez and Miron agree. The market will follow the path of the beer and wine market, with craft and artisanal products at one end of the spectrum and marijuana products that are the equivalent of Natty Daddy or Chateau LeBox on the other.
"Small marijuana growers are going to have to upscale themselves," Mendez said. "A number of customers will want the cheapest stuff because they just want to get stoned, but there will be others.
"You will see the industry sort itself out. That is capitalism."
There is a second market for marijuana.
Chinese physicians began experimenting with the medical benefits of cannabis 2,000 years before Christ. English doctors were using the plant extensively in the 1900s. In Israel and the Netherlands, pharmaceutical companies are developing mixtures of the three strains of marijuana to produce medicine that can shrink cancerous tumors, shorten or prevent seizures, ease the tremors of ALS or Parkinson's disease, provide relief from pain or anxiety.
Medical research in the United States is prohibited by law. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA. The DEA ruled on Aug. 13 that marijuana, "does not have a currently accepted medical use," and "it has a high potential for abuse."
CannaTech Medicinals disagrees and is betting that opinion will change.
The company is currently building a multi-million dollar facility in the Fall River biopark. The company will grow and process marijuana for medical use. It is also planning a dispensary to be located at the corner of Rodman and Hartwell Streets in Fall River.
The company is betting that the federal government will change its mind and remove marijuana from its list of Schedule 1 drugs. Proponents argue the Food and Drug Administration should oversee marijuana control, allowing medical research.
"Once it is descheduled, it will open the gates," said Dr. Henry Crowley, Cannatech's president. "It will allow us to partner with big pharma and really get working on our research."
That will also allow Cannatech to grow— possibly employing 100 people at its facility, Crowley said.
Besides offering jobs, marijuana could be important for the city. Fall River is formulating its own rules for the marijuana business. Three companies have been given letters of non-opposition from the city to open dispensaries, and a forth, represented by former Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan is seeking the city's support. Dispensaries in Fall River will pay a 4-percent tax on sales as well as property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes on real estate.
"This provides a medical benefit to people with medical marijuana cards," said Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II. "This is a medicine.
"It wouldn't be prudent for the administration to be obstructionist."
But there are direct benefits for the city, he added.
"Even if it just stays medicinal, it could be big," he said. "If it goes recreational, like it has in other states, it could produce huge money for the city."
Despite the most recent ruling by the DEA, 2016 is shaping up as a pivotal year for marijuana. Five states, including Massachusetts, will ask voters if recreational marijuana will be legal.
One of those will be California, with 39 million people, the country's most populous state. Also the number one producer of marijuana in the country.
Another four states will vote on allowing medical marijuana or changing rules on marijuana as medicine.
Advocates from legal marijuana say each vote puts more pressure on states and the federal government to end the prohibition on marijuana.
But most expect the campaign to continue at the ballot box, state by state.
"There has yet to be a state that legalizes cannabis by legislation," Mendez said. "It has all been through a public vote."
Information from: The (Fall River, Mass.) Herald News, http://www.heraldnews.com
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