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Northampton continues cannabis debate with key department heads

NORTHAMPTON – After a lengthy panel discussion at a community services meeting in late September, Northampton continues discussions with experts and panelists about the effects of Northampton’s cannabis business since the first dispensary opened in 2018.

On October 3, the City Services Committee asked Police Chief Jody Kasper and Health Commissioner Merridith O’Leary to discuss the impact the cannabis market has had on police calls, crime and call activity, substance abuse prevention programs and addiction. and recovery services. The overall aim of these roundtable discussions is to find out whether a future decision to limit the number of pharmacies in Northampton is viable.

Kasper’s experiences

When NETA first opened on Conz Street in 2018, Kasper said there was an increase in vehicle traffic and accidents at the site as the facility attracted thousands of customers a day in those early months.
As more dispensaries entered the city and as more surrounding states began their own legalization processes, Kasper said vehicle traffic decreased.

“We’ve seen fewer customers coming into NETA and certainly not the same traffic — through pedestrian or vehicle challenges — in that area as it was when it opened,” Kasper said. “I think the initial opening and what happened with that, I don’t expect that to continue as more sites open.”

According to Kasper, the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) requires the city’s chief or captain to inspect all dispensaries before opening to ensure proper safety measures are in place. So far in Northampton, Kasper said the process has been “smooth sailing.”

Some findings

“We have a lot of calls [at dispensaries]; it’s something very different from other sites,” Kasper said. “The short answer is no. Nothing really happens in these facilities.”
Instead, the majority of calls to pharmacies are similar to most store openings; for example, the occasional alarm goes off, a random health issue occurs, or other concerns arise. “There’s nothing specific about it being a marijuana plant,” Kasper said. – They are generally quiet; we have not committed violent crimes in parking lots.”

“Overall, we rate these sites as nothing particularly noteworthy happening there that isn’t happening anywhere else,” Kasper continued.

As for drug-related under-the-influence (OUI) incidents, Kasper said the city has seen a percentage increase. For example, in 2019, 5.4 percent of OUIs in Northampton were OUI drugs, and in 2020, that number increased to 9.8 percent. In 2021, this figure rose to 22.2 percent.

However, the caveat with these percentages is that the numbers themselves were minuscule. There were six such cases in 2019 and 2020, and 14 in 2021.

“These are very small numbers to work with,” Kasper said. “When we know we’re going to have marijuana in our community, we have officers who are drug detection experts and we’re better able to detect and apprehend and ultimately charge people with OUI drugs.”

Whether these OUI cases involve cannabis is a different matter. According to Kasper, the answer is no.

“It’s mixed drugs,” Kasper said. “A lot of times, people are under the influence of multiple substances, including alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, other drugs, and frankly, it’s easiest to charge someone with OUI alcohol because we have a very clear law on that.”

Because cannabis is still a new market, Kasper said there is no clear numerical indicator that someone has used cannabis while driving, which is another reason it’s easier to charge someone with an alcohol-related OUI.

O’Leary’s thoughts

“Because cannabis hasn’t been legalized long enough, there’s not a lot of data to show how retail cannabis will affect our youth,” O’Leary said.

Because of this, O’Leary’s data was mostly presented through the lens of his experience with the tobacco industry. “We know, based on tobacco history, that tobacco retail density is associated with youth initiation and experimentation with tobacco products,” O’Leary said. “Higher retail density contributes to youth uptake and initiation.”

According to O’Leary, a RAND Corporation study shows that once cannabis stores open, the density of recreational retailers is associated with higher use and intensity among young adults.

“Today, I’m asking council to think about our built environment and learn from past experiences with materials in our community, and I’m asking you to consider the cap,” O’Leary said. “Capping retail permits, capping limits, or reducing the amount of retail permits available in a given locality is a long-term strategy we’ve used to reduce retail density and exposure to the substance.”

City council and commissions plan to discuss this issue at future meetings. Those interested can view Reminder Publishing’s previous coverage of the discussions on our website.

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