Inside the war against cannabis in Milford, which could have major Commonwealth-wide implications
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, Milford voters will be turning out for a special election featuring a sole ballot question that will decide the fate of the budding Massachusetts retail cannabis industry’s ability to operate within their town limits legally.
If the “yes” votes have it—which is a yes to “no pot shops”—the resulting impact for people like Christopher Hudalla, Ph.D and founder/chief scientific officer for cannabis testing operation ProVerde Labs, would be potentially catastrophic. His business is cannabis, and ProVerde is based right in Milford.
“I work 90 hours a week just keeping my business working,” says Hudalla, who notes that he came to the discussion late, mostly due to the manner in which the special election referendum was assembled, worded, and pushed through with minimal public awareness. A few weeks ago, he appeared on a local Milford TV show to discuss the topic, and the stark realization came.
“I was blown away that the panelists were completely oblivious to the fact there was already cannabis activity in town,” he says, referring to ProVerde as well as Sage Cannabis, which operates a medical dispensary in Cambridge, but cultivates marijuana and produces products in Milford. Hudalla said that he invited one of the prohibition panelists to visit his lab for a detailed presentation from an expert, but the invitation fell on sealed ears.
Local experts say the outcome of the vote on Tuesday could have implications for an industry already besieged by political bickering, cloak-and-dagger transparency concerns, and foot-dragging at the state level. If Milford puts the kibosh on retail weed, it will be another sign—and an ugly one—that problems in the newborn Mass grass industry are ramping up.
This past Saturday, organizers and supporters of Milford Citizens for Fairness—a community action group supporting retail cannabis—lined the streets of Draper Park with placards and toothy waves as carbound residents honked in support.
“When the wishes of the voters are not reflected by the people running the town, other towns should pay attention,” says Bryan Cole, spokesperson for the group. “Pay attention to what happens here, because it could happen across the state.”
A similar lively scene was afoot last week during a special “Community Forum on Recreational Marijuana” at Milford Town Hall. Mixed together out front were pro-cannabis advocates, along with counterparts flaunting their views (“kids could get access to the pot servings,” said one concerned woman). Lawn signs with similar anti-pot messages are popular in the more affluent corners of Milford, and come courtesy of an opposition force made up of a cross-section of Milford selectmen, school committee members, and community activists trying to overturn the will of the majority of Milford residents (who voted in support of Question 4, helping legalize adult use and retail cannabis). Their efforts focus on a referendum ban that will include not only retail storefronts, but all licensed canna-business establishments—from cultivators, to testing facilities, to manufacturers.
Last week’s forum was organized by a subgroup within Citizens for Milford called the Milford Community Against Recreational Marijuana Retail Establishments, or Milford CARES, if you can handle the incredibly strained acronym. Constituents were invited, along with CARES members, and at least one priest. They all fear the dangerous spectre of cannabis.
While CARES claims to support medical marijuana and the businesses associated with it, their members on the panel offered standard reefer madness-style rhetoric and fear-stoking, as well as misrepresentative statistical data. It was the kind of spectacle that leads to oblivious or pre-biased voters thinking that retail cannabis business of any kind is a one-way ticket to a suburban hellscape, marked by stoned children and the full disintegration of societal norms.
On the CARES side, much of the “experts say” and fact-sourcing came from anecdotes, including one a member heard “from someone I know at the the front lines” It’s a view that sees only negative impacts of recreational marijuana establishments. For them, it’s all about perception, and perhaps preconceptions. As panel member William Kingkade, chairman of the Milford Board of Selectmen, said in his time on the mic, “I think it could be that way if we’re the only town around with proximities to highways.” Referencing the ribbons of interstates and major routes flanking the town, Kingkade added that offering such wide-open accessibility, involving a product and plant “we know so little about,” was something like lowering a drawbridge for pot-smoking barbarians wailing and gnashing their teeth waiting to stampede.
With fantasies like that, it’s no wonder that the group is fine quoting DrugRehab.com on its FAQ page. Soothsayers associated with that resource predict how the regulated cannabis adults may procure for recreational use is different from medical because “medicinal marijuana often is rich in CBD with little or no THC.”
Medical good. Recreational bad.
The largely older room was already shaking its collective head when John Scheft, a lawyer who has worked with retail opposition groups as recently as last year, told people who have cannabis nostalgia that “it wasn’t that bad” back in the day, whereas “right now the products that [retail cannabis businesses] sell, that they market, are 60-70-80-90% THC.” Of course it’s people like this, along with their fellow conservatives, who turn out in higher numbers for special elections like the one on Tuesday.
If there were any refutations, they were not heard—a curiosity in an ostensibly public town forum, especially given the importance of the upcoming vote. Since zero questions were allowed during the presentations, when the constituents were gathered together and listening, following the forum marijuana advocates like Hudalla were forced to address panelists one-on-one, quietly, like a point-counterpoint confessional away from swayable ears.
The original social media invite for last week’s event listed local state Rep. Brian Murray as a forum speaker. However, the Milford CARES group claim that his involvement was dependent on “neutrality”—a media rep for Milford CARES told DigBoston they first believed the representative was “neutral on this critical issue”—but after learning that he supported the recreational cannabis industry, members disinvited Murray (they said he was still allowed to attend). Asked why they blocked his voice, as well as those of Milford Citizens for Fairness, the rep said, “All communications regarding the forum clearly indicated it was a Milford CARES event… We encourage the proponents of the ‘no’ vote to plan and orchestrate their own public forum.”
Given the time crunch for those supporting the no vote on Tuesday, and the entrance of legal retail operations in a crucial logistical town for Mass grass, for those who live in Milford, the only forum left to sound off in at this point is the voting booth.