Busts harm homebound patients

Interview with the founder of Massachusetts Patients for Home Delivery

(Grant Smith, MA Senator Jason Lewis, and Mike Crawford, Left to Right)

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Grant Smith of Belmont, Massachusetts is a disabled patient advocate with a unique perspective on the value that unregulated cannabis delivery services offer homebound patients.

What follows is our interview with Smith about why he’s pushing for big changes in the way the state licenses cannabis operators in Massachusetts.  

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What medical 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, effects 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 bleeding disorder which, in the absence of cannabis, would require treatment with steroids (or other harmful medications).

You just founded a new patients organization?

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 needed to open such an establishment) can oftentimes amount to as much as 40-50% 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 (closer to 25% of one's monthly SSDI income).

However, 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?

Yes, 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 2 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-$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 3 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 State House bill that aims to create a new cannabis law enforcement task force?

For the reasons I had just been discussing above (the potential negative impact on accessibility for homebound/disabled patients who rely on smaller cannabis delivery services), I have serious concerns as to the "task force" bill currently being proposed by Sen. Michael Moore and Rep. Hannah Kane (SD. 2387).

While I think the bill is, in spirit, is 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), and, 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 (not just those with the power to higher former state lawmakers as the executive director of their industry association). 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 non-profit 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 non-profit medical disciplinarians and a for profit recreational dispensary simultaneously).

In that way, much like the response by Senator Glass to the catastrophe that occurred when investment and deposit banks were allowed to operate under the same roof in the 1920s, I would suggest that there instead be a proposal put forth which would ban any single company from owning both a medical dispensary and a recreational dispensary. That such a conflict of interest is allowed to exist under current law, to me, is perhaps the best example as to why smaller mom and pop companies are best served to uphold the interests of patients (rather than their own profits).

What do you hope to achieve with MPHD?

My goal for Massachusetts Patients for Home Delivery (MPHD) 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.

You are nominated for several awards at The Young Jurks award show. Tell us about what the show and award nominations mean for you? Anything you want to share on The Young Jurks five year anniversary?

I am honored, and humbled, to have been nominated in multiple categories for the upcoming 5th anniversary gala for The Young Jurks on April the 27th at Down the Road Beer Company. To be listed alongside individuals who I consider to be heroes within the world of cannabis activism, by a show I consider to be the premier source of information about the industry in Massachusetts, leaves me nearly speechless. I am eternally grateful to those who are willing to give a platform to the views of the disabled, and it brings me near to the verge of tears to know that voice is being heard in the wider community as well.

The Young Jurks will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the first media outlet which took my call, listened to my story, and gave me a voice when my caregiver was first shut down all those years ago. Without that initial springboard I may never have found my footing as to being an activist for the disabled, and that support is something I will never forget. Although this is slightly difficult for me to talk about, I was in a very dark place after falling disabled, having been taken off a career path I thought to have been my vocation. It was really only due to the encouragement I received from everyone involved with the Young Jurks (and the wider cannabis community) that I slowly began to rebuild my self-worth and sense of place in the world. I say it perhaps more than I should, but The Young Jurks is an embodiment of everything that makes the Massachusetts Cannabis Community so special; integrity, honor and a bulldog like approach to the issues which other outlets won't touch. I hope the Young Jurks is around for many decades to come and I'm honored to be have been a part of the ride.

Anything else you want to share?  

I may have overshared already, if anything. I will end by simply saying I'm very thankful for the opportunity to have answered your questions today, and I wish yourself, and The Young Jurks, many more years of success.