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Massachusetts cannabis sales met expectations in 2019 with $420 million in gross income, according to the Cannabis Control Commission, with an extra $17 million coming in since the Nov. 20, 2018 opening of the state’s first store.

It was smiles all around at Millis Town Hall when officials received an $88,046.37 check from CommCan Inc. – the only recreational marijuana dispensary in town.

The amount reflected three months of business after the location opened late last year, the optional local 3% sales tax owed by every marijuana company in Massachusetts as part of the host community agreement.

Massachusetts cannabis sales met expectations in 2019 with $420 million in gross income, according to the Cannabis Control Commission, with an extra $17 million coming in since the Nov. 20, 2018 opening of the state’s first store.

The amount has cycled back into communities where the stores have opened. It has helped the businesses thrive and has offered Massachusetts residents with safe sale and consumption.

But not all communities are seeing the benefits of the gross earnings for 2019. Towns like Southborough have had a recreational sales ban since 2016, when Question 4 was approved.

Although statewide recreational sales were approved on a majority vote among towns and cities, not all voted yes. 

Each of Southborough’s three precincts voted no. As a result, it is one of the more than 80 communities that not only reject recreational marijuana businesses, but also miss out the potential profits from sales taxes like those seen in Millis. 

But Southborough is still home to one dispensary: CommCan’s second location, and operates only for medical sales under a separate law approved by voters in 2012. 

Matthew Herrold, the company’s marketing associate, says sales tax benefits the towns where the company operates. Although the Southborough store doesn’t generate tax revenues, it still contributes to the town through a variety of donation drives. 

“This business does something to serve people’s health and needs,” says Herrold. “We have opened 90 local jobs between our two locations. We organize toy drives, food drives and donate to a huge audience to create awareness about safe marijuana use.”

Herrold also points out how one of the donation drives the company organizes aims to help those formerly imprisoned with drug charges. On Feb. 11, the company donated $1,500 to Dismas House in Worcester, a facility that employs former prisoners. 

“Companies (that) want to, can make real changes,” said Herrold. 

But Herrold does not see the ban as a lost battle for communities where medical facilities are the only viable option for cannabis products. He says that the almost 60,000 active patients in Massachusetts who have been issued a medical marijuana ID still see benefits, citing financial savings. 

“Way ahead, (customers) come out saving a lot of money,” he said. “We offer a 17% discount for first-time patients. After that, there are discounts up to $200.”

Medical sale locations are enough of a cannabis presence in Southborough for people like Cheryl Bisceglia, a resident who was one of the thousands who voted against recreational sales in 2016. She cites the unknown damages of the effects of marijuana.

“We don’t know much about it,” Bisceglia said. “Until not long ago people thought vaping was harmless, but look at what’s happening now,” referring to the five vaping-related deaths in Massachusetts, the latest confirmed last week. 

When asked about the financial benefits from recreational sales in towns like Millis, Bisceglia put it simply, “I don’t think it matters when you see people dropping like flies from vaping.”

Jim Borghesani, chief operating officer of Tudestr, a cannabis consulting organization, feels strongly that bans on recreational sales reflect baseless fears and stigmas. 

“(Marijuana) bans,” he said, “are largely a result of hysteria from 100 years of prohibition. Banning recreational sales (gives) a green light to illegal sales.” 

Borghesani echoes Herrold regarding the benefits of recreational marijuana businesses. He mentioned the sales tax, the charitable contributions, and job openings among other things which he considers a reflection for how “prohibition has failed,” and why “every year (recreational marijuana) gets more support.”

When asked about decriminalization on a federal level, Borghesani exclaimed, “Oh God, yes! Marijuana is categorized as a Schedule I drug with heroin, which is utterly ridiculous.”

Unlike Bisceglia, many in Massachusetts seem to agree with Borghesani.

Todd Earle, of Leominster, is currently employed in Southborough and feels that the town is wary of a new venture like recreational marijuana business. He says this stems from a more conservative nature. 

“I think Southborough should probably change that position,” Earle said about recreational sales.

“Working with people living in Southborough I’ve understood that they’re more old school, and I don’t think they understand,” he said. “They’re more conservative, that way.” 

Earle also believes that the adoption of recreational marijuana sales would only benefit the communities that they are in. 

Worcester resident Stacey McKenna also understands the benefits of recreational sales adoption, seeing only positives for the communities where recreational stores operate. In the process, she recognized the loss by those who have a ban in place.

“I think there’s a lot of money lost,” she said. “People are going to smoke weed no matter what. Why not have it regulated?”

McKenna has seen Good Chemistry flourish in Worcester as a recreational location. She sees little downside in having recreational sales in place, but is ambiguous in terms of use. 

“From what I hear, people say it’s more expensive than buying it on the street,” she said. “But considering the medical benefits, I think the negatives of regulating it do not compare.”

Ashley Maddock, of Southborough, remains skeptical about the town changing its current ban. 

“While I do think a lot of cities and towns could benefit from recreational sales, I do think that it’s not something that (Southborough residents) are going to want,” she said.

Reversing a ban is actually not unusual in Massachusetts. After having voted no on Question 4, Mashpee residents decided to eventually reject the ban, speculating about the benefits from the taxation.

On Feb. 8 Triple M, a currently medical-only facility, received a provisional license for recreational sales by the CCC.

Companies like CommCan see a fruitful future ahead of themselves, with the current situation not affecting business – perhaps only the communities.

“We have grown,” said Herrold, “and just like the rest of the industry, we will continue to grow.”

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