Grant Smith of Belmont is a disabled medical cannabis patient advocate with a unique perspective on the value that unlicensed cannabis delivery services offer homebound patients. We interviewed him about why he’s pushing for big changes in the way that the state licenses operators.
What conditions do you use medical cannabis for?
I fell seriously disabled in May of 2014 due to complications following a surgery. Sadly, my condition is causing my throat to collapse, which, in turn, affects nerves that run into my face and eye. I use cannabis in combination with other medications to help alleviate the agonizing facial neuralgia which would otherwise leave me in tears nearly every waking moment of my life. Through the use of cannabis, I have managed to reduce my daily dose of narcotic pain medication by over 30%. Beyond those issues, I also have a bleeding disorder which, in the absence of cannabis, would require treatment with steroids or other harmful medications.
Tell us about the new patients’ organization you started …
I founded Massachusetts Patients for Home Delivery (MPHD) as a way to give a voice to homebound/disabled cannabis patients and consumers who rely on small local delivery companies and cannabis caregivers to obtain cannabis at a reasonable price. Sadly, many people who are disabled are on a fixed income, and the prices charged by brick-and-mortar dispensaries [due to the complex nature of regulations for opening such an establishment] can oftentimes amount to as much as 40 to 50% of their monthly SSDI stipends. For this reason, homebound/disabled patients have long gravitated towards smaller caregiver services and other mom-and-pop delivery operations due to their ability to offer their medication at a reasonable price point [such as] closer to 25% of one’s monthly SSDI income.
In spite of the wonderful service that these companies provide to those of us who are homebound, there are some who view such services as a threat to their profits, including some dispensary owners. Those dispensary owners with deep pockets and intricate political ties are in turn able to exert political pressure on regulatory agencies in order to have smaller operations of that nature shut down. While it is no doubt important to ensure the laws of the Commonwealth are upheld, and that services and dispensaries alike are operating in compliance with the regulations set forth by statute, MPHD, at its core, was founded to ensure that the enforcement of those laws and regulations within the cannabis industry does not adversely impact accessibility and cost for those in our society who are the most vulnerable due to their physical/mental limitations and also their lack of voice in the political process.
You lost a caregiver a few years ago due to a law enforcement raid. How did that impact you?
Sadly, the caregiver service I had used from the very beginning of my time as a medical patient was shut down in late 2016/early 2017. I was quite upset and scared as a result, as it had taken more than two months to find that service to begin with.
Having to begin another search for a caregiver, while dealing with a flare-up in my symptoms, was both terrifying and agonizing as I worried I would not be able to find another person willing to assist me with low-cost medication that was tested for impurities. In desperation, I began calling around to dispensaries only to be told I would be charged between $50 and $75 dollars in delivery fees alone due to my location, which would have brought the total cost for a month of my medication (1 oz of flower) to $450, more than 50% of my monthly SSDI stipend.
With dispensaries out of the question, I had to spend more than 3 weeks searching before I was eventually able to find another caregiver (who, to my surprise, waived all delivery fees for homebound/disabled patients). However, during that three-week period I was left with no medical cannabis and, in turn, my doctor ended up increasing the dosage of other, far more harmful medications. That entire process was frustrating, painful, and really opened my eyes as to how easily patients can fall by the wayside when cannabis regulations are enforced by police officers rather than civil regulators.
Why do you think about the proposed bill that aims to create a new cannabis law enforcement task force?
For the reasons I had just been discussing above, like the potential negative impact on accessibility for homebound/disabled patients who rely on smaller cannabis delivery services, I have serious concerns [about] the “task force” bill currently being proposed by Sen. Michael Moore and Rep. Hannah Kane. While I think the bill is, in spirit, attempting to be well-intentioned by trying to shut down the unregulated market, as written it sadly provides no pathway or amnesty for services which are currently operating that may want to transition into the regulated market.
Instead, rather than opening such a pathway, the current bill would focus resources on jailing and imposing back taxes on such services. As such, the proposed task force bill would end up serving as a form of regulatory capture for brick-and-mortar dispensaries by way of a return to failed drug war policies. In my view, government should never be used to advance the profits of monied interests in that way.
Beyond that, the proposed law would undermine the fundamental goals of the Cannabis Control Commission, which are to engender equitable access to the industry for all business. As such, I will be opposing SD. 2387 and encouraging others to do so unless and until it is amended to offer a pathway/amnesty for small businesses who are currently assisting vulnerable patients and consumers if those services seek to apply for a license in front of the CCC.
To protect the medical cannabis program, Mass Patient Advocacy Alliance is lobbying to ban discounts for rec patients. What do you think about that stance?
I have just today learned of the proposal put forth by others as to banning the use of discounts within the recreational market as a way to discourage for-profit dispensaries from enticing medical patients to transition to said recreational market. To me, while I think the problem is correctly identified—the risk of patients being pulled away from the nonprofit medical program in search of short-term discounts in the for-profit recreational sphere—the proposed solution misses the root cause of that core structural deficiency, the inherent conflict that exists when a single company is able to run both a nonprofit medical disciplinary and a for-profit recreational dispensary simultaneously.
What do you hope to achieve with MPHD?
My goal is to provide an honorable voice for those who, due to physical or other limitations, may be unable to participate in the political process as it relates to the regulation of the cannabis industry. For me, success would mean a structure wherein no regulation or proposal would go forward in the cannabis industry absent consideration of its potential impact on accessibility for those with limited mobility or other disabilities.
Follow Mike Crawford on Twitter @mikecannboston and subscribe to his email newsletter at midnightmass.substack.com. You can listen to The Young Jurks at anchor.fm/theyoungjurks or wherever else podcasts are streamed.