Today was a marathon meeting! There are several good articles up already. I thought it would be a good time to do an old-fashioned blog post laying out the key takeaways from today’s discussion. Although it became heated at certain points, those points were largely inconsequential and as far as the major policy decisions were concerned, I’m proud of the discussion we had today and the collaborative result. I think we all got to something we can live with. For full context, you can find the livestream on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Facebook page.
We went through the following policy areas in detail, working from excerpts of the draft regulations. These excerpts we discussed will be public shortly, if they aren’t already. The full set of draft regulations will be discussed at our next meeting this Thursday June 27 (see MassCannabisControl.com for info). That draft will be open for public comment, subject to changes based on that comment, and then finalized.
Here is my personal interpretation of the most important points to know. These are my own opinions.
Ownership and Control
I would generally characterize the changes we made today as making the limitations on ownership, and “control” in particular, consistent. One question I get a lot – sometimes more sincerely than others – is “But what does it MEAN to control another business?” The revised regulations will answer this question very clearly.
Two important clarifications I made:
- There is a bulleted list of what consitutes a person or entity “having rights to control.” I proposed adding before the list, “including but not limited to” so that we can consider other new forms of control that may come up. This passed.
- I suggested that a license belonging to a marijuana establishment will be void if the company makes a transfer of ownership or control that requires Commission approval. This passed.
What passed today is a very incremental approach to home delivery, but a major win for equity. Delivery-only retailers can deliver products from retailers to consumers. These licenses will be exclusively for Social Equity Program Participants and Economic Empowerment Applicants for at least 24 months. I am very proud of this exclusivity, we’ve been fighting for it since February 2017.
Some important takeaways:
- To be viable over the long run, these businesses will eventually need the ability to be able to either purchase wholesale or cultivate/process their own product. The Commission has agreed to consider allowing microbusinesses to deliver their own product in our next round of regulations. I expect this to be an important topic for public comment.
- I am extremely concerned about the requirement that agents wear body cameras. There’s no justification for such an invasion of privacy, especially when the subjects of that government-mandated corporate surveillance are standing in their own homes. However, I lost this vote.
- There are questions about where deliveries can occur. I’m not sure we can legally prevent individuals from receiving a delivery of a legal product. Others felt that delivery businesses should only be able to deliver within the municipality that they are located. Ultimately, we compromised on a policy that if a city or town allows retailers to be licensed, then residents there may receive deliveries from any delivery business. I will be interested to see the public comment we receive on this.
The proposed regulations would impose several new requirements on medical dispensaries, which are already allowed to deliver to patients and have been doing so safely. There are also new restrictions on patients. I felt these requirements were excessive and was able to scale back some but not all of them.
- There is a new requirement that vehicles making medical deliveries be equipped with cameras. Given that there have been no criminal incidents, and that the businesses are already required to have detailed manifests that are video recorded, and signed, and the agents performing the deliveries have had extensive background checks, I don’t see any justifications for such surveillance. If we can’t define the problem we are addressing, or whom we are protecting or why, we should not create a new regulation. I lost this vote.
- There was a proposed new requirement that all patients should complete a “pre-verification” process before being eligible to receive delivery. I pointed out this was repetitive and unfair because patients already have gone through a long, expensive, burdensome process and suggesting removing it. This passed.
- There was a new proposed restriction preventing patients from receiving deliveries in dorms, federally subsidized housing, hotels/motels/B&Bs, etc. I objected to this, since patients may be traveling and need medicine. There was not support for removing the restriction completely (as I wanted), but we compromised and exempted hotels/motels/B&Bs.
After months of working collaboratively with a very engaged working group comprised of municipal and state officials, I was thrilled to join a majority of commissioners in voting to pass a Social Consumption Pilot Program open to 12 municipalities. We voted 3-2 today to start with “brick-and-mortar” cannabis cafes which could potentially allow vaping inside ventilated cafes, with smoking allowed outside if the municipality approves it. Event licenses are on the agenda for the next round of regulations. It will be a while until you see any social consumption businesses open – we still need to see a legislative technical fix to allow municipalities to opt in before the pilot program can move forward. Ultimately, I am not sure how much room there will be for adjustments given that it only passed 3-2, but I am happy with where it’s headed. Like delivery, these licenses will be exclusively for Social Equity Program participants and Economic Empowerment applicants, but also holders of microbusinesses and craft co-op licenses.
In my capacity as the commissioner focused on social justice, I have some MAJOR concerns about what we passed today regarding suitability, most notably that in the context of background checks, we would treat “continuances without a finding” – which are absolutely not convictions – as convictions. The implications of such a policy are enormous and I expect that civil rights and social justice organizations will have plenty of feedback on this. I made a motion to change it, but lost 4-1.
Removal of Product
Removal of product refers to the authority and process for the Commission to require businesses to remove products. The scope of the removal can vary based on the risk. I would characterize this as a totally sensible policy, in theory. It creates a process by which the Commission could remove a category of products that are causing problems, particularly regarding attractiveness to children. I envisioned, for example, cake pops causing emergency room visits. Another commissioner suggested flavored vape cartridges. In any such case, this process would create a mechanism to evaluate data and determine whether there is sufficient evidence that the product was a substantial risk to public health and safety.
I was able to add some common-sense language further clarifying that the process would be evidence-based and relative to a consistent standard. The removal could apply to specific types of products, or specific brands.
But, for reasons I find obvious, I moved to remove this section listing “categories of product types” the removal could additionally apply to:
“A type of product including but not limited to marijuana seeds, marijuana clones, marijuana edibles, beverages, topical products, ointments, oils, tinctures, oral dosage forms or any other product identified by the Commission or its delegees.”
My motion to remove it in its entirety failed 4-1, but my motion to remove marijuana seeds and marijuana clones from the list passed.
This wasn’t a specific agenda item today, but it’s incredibly important and I want to highlight it. For social consumption, we created a “pre-certification” process that would allow applicants to be vetted by the Commission as having a propensity to successfully operate a business, through things like a business plan, initial background check, and policies and procedures. They would then receive a pre-certification to use as a form of credibility when attempting to work with municipalities, investors, and landlords. The most difficult parts of the application – host community agreement, proof of capital, and proof of a property interest – would be left for the end of the application. It sounds bureaucratic and uninteresting, but I believe that this will have a large and measurable impact for equity. Between this, exclusivity, the technical assistance we are offering, and (cross your fingers) an interest-free loan fund of the type offered by Senator Chang-Diaz, this is a viable pathway for small businesses.
I hope this recap was helpful! Again, as a disclaimer, this is my own personal interpretation from my own personal perspective; if you are looking for additional context, please watch the livestream and read the drafts. I hope this summary has provided some clarity and helped you begin to think about the topics you may want to provide public comment on. Keep an eye on the Commission’s website for the information on how to provide feedback either in person or via email. You can always send me questions and comments as well.