AYER -- Being one of only nine businesses in a new, highly-regulated industry in Massachusetts has its challenges.
Medical marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries like Central Ave. Compassionate Care, Inc., CACCI, face restrictions that other agricultural or retail business do not.
Because of pot's classification by the federal government, the company cannot do its banking in a federally chartered bank, said Executive Director John Hillier during a breakfast meeting with the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce in Devens on Jan 25.
The drug is legal for medical and more recently for recreational use in the state, but is still an illegal Schedule 1 drug at the federal level.
The classification of the drug means that no government grants are available to research marijuana, said Mark Hillier, the chief operating officer and John's son.
That slows things down, he said. It is expected to take 46 years to reveal the genome for medical marijuana what but researchers expect to have the genome for corn in four years.
Other regulations limit signage and prevent advertising.
Cannabis dispensaries must be nonprofit. This means the company does not have stockholders, John Hillier said.
Part of the profits go to a fund to assist qualified patients who cannot afford the drug, John Hillier said.
In addition to the costs associated with obtaining a medical marijuana card from the state Department of Health, patients are on the hook for the cost of the drug. It is not covered by insurance.
Growing things was already part of John Hillier's skill set when he opened CACCI in 2013. He came to marijuana cultivation and sales from his other company, Turf-Logic, a lawn company.
The marijuana grown and sold at CACCI is constantly tested. In addition to monitoring the level of medical substances in the plants, they check for yeast, mold and heavy metals. No pesticides are used.
"There's a lot to this plant," John Hillier said. "There's been an incredible learning curve."
An audience member asked about employees of federally-regulated businesses who use medical marijuana.
Drug- and alcohol-use policies should be consistent across the board, John Hillier said. Whatever the policy is for other legal substances it should be the same for marijuana.
When asked about the impact of legal recreational marijuana, John Hillier said, "Every day is definitely a new challenge. "We're going to stay medical."
They have not ruled out recreational marijuana in the future.
The sale of the recreational drug will mean increased revenues to towns because of an excise tax, he said.
Medical and recreational marijuana can be consumed in a variety of ways. CACCI promotes vaping as an alternative to smoking, John Hillier said.
Mark Hillier earned a laugh when he said, "It goes beyond the pot brownies we all know."
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