GREAT BARRINGTON — Last week's shift in federal cannabis policy hit the ground Tuesday in Berkshire County, forcing the lone medical marijuana dispensary to accept only cash.
Theory Wellness, at 394 Stockbridge Road, is one of several dispensaries that was dropped by Merchant Services Consulting Group of Florida, a company that processes debit card payments.
The company pulled out of Massachusetts on Monday after U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said that day he could not guarantee his Boston office would look away from operations related to state-sanctioned cannabis businesses.
Those include nonprofit companies producing and selling to the medical market. Later this year, that landscape is expected to expand to growers and retailers selling to the adult-use recreational market.
Nick Friedman, president and chief financial officer of Theory Wellness, said Wednesday the company's dispensaries in Great Barrington and Bridgewater are no longer taking debit card payments.
He said he hopes the shift to cash-only transactions is temporary. In the meantime, Theory Wellness is reimbursing customers for ATM fees they incur obtaining cash for their purchases.
"We understand that this is an inconvenience to our patients and are optimistic we can resolve this issue in the near future," Friedman said.
By covering ATM fees, Friedman said Theory Wellness is trying "to help support patients during this period of transition."
The impact is unclear on Berkshire Roots, which expects to open in March at 501 Dalton Ave. in Pittsfield. Officials with the company could not be reached for comment.
The new Pittsfield nonprofit is completing work on a 26,000-square-foot renovation of the former home of the Salvation Army Family Store. Berkshire Roots will be the county's first cannabis growing facility, as well as a medical marijuana dispensary.
John E. Mullen IV, its CEO, plans to submit an application to sell recreational cannabis from the same location. Retail sales are expected to begin July 1 across the state under terms set by the Cannabis Control Commission.
The Pittsfield Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 on Berkshire Roots' petition to amend its existing special permit. The company seeks to make alternations to its site plan and building entrance. It is also asking the board to allow it to sell recreational marijuana.
Debit cards are still being accepted at New England Treatment Access in Northampton, a staff member said Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney's statement
Lelling, a Trump administration appointee and 16-year veteran of the Justice Department, issued a statement Monday saying he wanted to provide guidance about how his office would handle the enforcement of federal laws that treat marijuana cultivation and sale as crimes.
"I cannot, however, provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution," he said in the statement.
Lelling said he viewed the shift from Washington, D.C., as "a straightforward rule of law issue."
"Congress has unambiguously made it a federal crime to cultivate, distribute and/or possess marijuana. As a law enforcement officer in the Executive Branch, it is my sworn responsibility to enforce that law," Lelling said. "Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do."
On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department would no longer follow the so-called Cole Memorandum. That document, issued during the Obama administration, advised officials not to intervene in states that voted to allow cannabis use.
The Cole memo had shielded banks from risks associated with doing business with cannabis firms.
Steven Hoffman, the former Bain Capital executive who leads the Cannabis Control Commission, said last week his panel would continue its work to create rules governing the recreational market.
The commission opens public hearings across the state on its draft regulations with a first stop Feb. 5 at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. That sessions starts at 8:30 a.m.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.