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It’s Not Easy Being Green

by Steve Desroches

A woman in smart khaki slacks and a white and blue striped sweater stands in line at Far Land Provisions with a basket containing an assortment of cheeses, a jar of cornichons, and a cobalt blue bottle of wine in the shape of a lighthouse from Truro Vineyards. Unless it’s a well-done knock-off, her purse looks expensive. She asks for two pear scones, the ones with the icing on them, and then tosses the day’s issue of the New York Times on the counter. As the clerk rings up her order, the customer asks a surprising question.

“Where can I get marijuana in town?”

True. True. Never judge a book by its cover. But nevertheless, perhaps due to anti-cannabis propaganda from the 1936 film Refer Madness to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” this smartly dressed, middle-aged woman with stiff posture, who paid with cash, but had a black credit card in her wallet, didn’t seem the type. Then again, based on election results from Alaska to Florida, and most states in between loosening their cannabis laws, clearly consumption of marijuana crosses every demographic as only Idaho, South Dakota, and Kansas have not in some way liberalized their marijuana laws. Internationally, Uruguay and Canada have legalized recreational marijuana in what is now a global movement to end the prohibition of cannabis.

The young woman from Bulgaria behind the counter didn’t know how to the answer the question. It was her fellow customers who let the woman from California know that while it is indeed legal here in Massachusetts, there are no dispensaries open in the Commonwealth yet. Despite passing at the ballot in 2016, the law still has not been fully implemented, and despite a deadline of July 1, the state is still dragging its feet. No marijuana can be sold legally in Massachusetts until an independent testing laboratory tests it, and at press time, the state Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has issued no license to such a facility, thus the snag on implementation. Looks like if you consume marijuana you might want to hang onto your current contact for a little while longer.

Finger-pointing and accusations are flying fast and furious, and there is confusion on the municipal level across the Commonwealth, for sure. But Provincetown is as poised and ready as it can be, despite no clear communication from the Cannabis Control Commission. Much like alcohol, the 351 municipalities can decide whether to allow sales or not, and Provincetown has been chomping at the bit to allow retail sales.

Since 2008 there have been three statewide votes on marijuana—the first to decriminalize, the second for legal medical marijuana, and the last for recreational—and in every case Provincetown voters have supported the measures overwhelmingly. So much so that each vote put the town in the top five municipalities in favor of each question, with 2016’s vote putting us only behind the tiny town of Wendell, not far from the border with Vermont. And that is on top of multiple town meeting votes dating back to 1976 in favor of liberalizing marijuana laws. As such, there are nine applications to date to open dispensaries in Provincetown.

“Come to find out we are unique in the state,” says Assistant Town Manager David Gardner with a sly smile. “There aren’t this many applications in any other town. Think about it. It’s Provincetown. People look at the map and think, ‘I’ll go there.’”

Marijuana has long been a ubiquitous feature here in Provincetown. And we are on the verge of becoming a destination for those seeking to purchase marijuana legally. But what may have started out as part of the bohemian and live-and-let-live values of Provincetown is about to become big business for the Cape tip. As the law is structured, recreational marijuana will be taxed at 20% in Provincetown; the state applies the 6.25% sales tax and a 10.75% state excise tax and the local option tax of up to 3%, which Provincetown has adopted up to the limit allowed. In addition to receiving all of the local option tax, municipalities also receive 3% of gross annual sales. As this is a new legal industry for the state, there are no reliable projections. But based on the interest in legal marijuana in Provincetown, the new revenue stream could be significant for the town, the only municipality on the Cape ready to begin the licensing process.

Of course none of that can happen until the state begins issuing licenses, which was suppose to begin on July 1. However, Provincetown, and any other municipality that chooses to do so, may begin the local regulatory process. Town meeting passed articles establishing Commercial Street (between Dyer and Franklin streets) as well as Shank Painter Road as zoned for recreational marijuana dispensaries. And while medical marijuana facilities could be approved for elsewhere in town, at the moment all applications have some form of recreational sales, which limits them to the approved areas of town. Applicants will need to clear the planning board as well as negotiate an agreement with the town, for which, according to Gardner, though not required, the Select Board has decided to be a part of the process.

Background checks and other state requirements will be done at the CCC level, but locally, questions remain, says Gardner. The state law does not address the idea of seasonal licenses, so it is unclear whether that is even allowed, something important to Provincetown. The Select Board will have to decide what business applications also fit into the local comprehensive plan for the town as well as other priorities and goals. That will all be hammered out in public meetings. Prior to the latest news that the state is not ready, Gardener thought the earliest a dispensary may open in Provincetown would be the fall. It may be later than that now. However, under the law an individual may grow up to six plants with a cap of twelve per household.

While this process is a moving target, there are other developments regarding marijuana and the Commonwealth. In April Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed a law that includes provisions expunging criminal records of those convicted of some prior marijuana offenses, something that is important, says Democratic state representative for the Fourth Barnstable District Sarah Peake of Provincetown. She says she heard from a constituent who had been arrested for possession of marijuana back in the 1960s, and with only that blemish on his record, was not eligible to participate in an affordable housing lottery. The state government also put in provisions to give preference to minority applicants in certain towns and neighborhoods, as the communities identified were subject to unfair enforcement of marijuana laws that targeted people of color as part of the so-called War on Drugs (no communities on Cape Cod are included on that list). And, as part of an effort to promote local agriculture and protect against big corporations from taking over the market, Democratic Cape and Island Senator Julian Cyr of Truro successfully submitted a bill, which Peake did as well in the House, that allows for craft cultivation. The High Dune Craft Cooperative is currently battling with the Town of Truro in crafting local bylaws to allow them to grow marijuana, creating a new, locally sourced product.

“Like any new industry there’s going to be growing pains,” says Cyr, who notes his district was divided in their votes on marijuana in 2016. “Each of the towns are different, and there is not a uniform reaction across the Commonwealth. But broadly I think this has been better received, though the state has been cautious as it considers the health and human safety aspects of this new industry.”

For more information on the Cannabis Control Commission, call 617.701.8400 or visit

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Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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