Along with my fellow commissioners, I spent the past two days in Boston and Springfield hearings taking public input on the CCC’s latest draft of regulations. The meetings were open to the public, and full video stream of the hearings are available on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Facebook page. Dozens of people testified, and some very clear themes emerged throughout the hearings. I felt a palpable sense of frustration, but also trust in us and our willingness to listen, which I appreciate.
There is a lot of integrity and transparency baked into the open-meeting structure of the Commission under the law. Our setup is designed for the five of us to have a sincere discussion of issues in public, so I won’t pre-empt that by sharing my specific reactions beforehand. I’m still digesting as it is. But I do want to take a minute and reflect on the feedback we received, both for my own synthesis and so that everyone who took the time to come can know that they were heard.
The comments were overall incredibly thoughtful and informed. I appreciated that most of the public who attended were well-versed in the Commission’s work and had done their homework. I especially loved seeing people hold up spreadsheets they had made, sharing comments based on research they had done firsthand using our open data platform. One person even made a case based on reading a transcript and using our own words back to us. I also appreciated that most people had tailored their feedback to what’s within our control.
Advantages for Small Businesses and Farmers
Taken together, speakers presented a long and valuable list of practical methods to encourage the groups we are tasked with including. We heard good advice for ways to support sustainable local farmers and outdoor growers, including a lot of requests to allow supplemental artificial lighting, looking at the definitions of greenhouses, clones, and mature plants, and reexamining testing limitations on specific microbes. There were many suggestions for how to encourage co-ops so that we can begin to license more of them.
We heard much feedback that 24 months is not enough time for an exclusivity period to enable participation, given current startup time periods. For social consumption, a few people thought the idea should be a nonstarter because of impaired driving concerns and about concerns about youth using marijuana. Others spoke in favor of event licenses and BYOC structures. One local official described the social consumption regulations as picturing “an underground bunker with a one-way mirror.” For delivery, there was concern that especially because of the requirements to purchase from retailers, the delivery regulations are cost-prohibitive.
There were many requests to consider allowing delivery retailers to purchase wholesale, especially from co-ops and microbusinesses. A couple speakers felt the name “retailer” did not describe the licenses and should be called something like “courier” instead. Body cameras were a popular topic. We heard arguments both in favor and against body cameras, which had been discussed in our meetings, except for one interesting point that the delivery agents may be approached from behind. There was some concern that the preverification process would favor more populous areas. We were asked to consider an online portal instead.
Timing and Priority
I don’t know where it stood in terms of quantity, but it felt like the one of the most urgent matters discussed was the question of timing on applications. There were several requests for more information for applicants to understand where they stand, and a lot of complaints, including from a local official, about licenses having priority based on medical operations not operating. Many people expressed that the uncertain time frame was the most harmful part of their experience.
The business owners who shared their personal stories were particularly impactful, including one person who had received an inheritance and hoped to start a co-op; a 12th-generation farmer; a small applicant who brought his application number in a display and said that now he can rest because we had looked at it; and a social equity applicant who said that underground operators laugh at people like him. I was moved to tears at least once. It was very helpful for me to hear and understand these specific experiences. Sometimes you know a fact already, but it’s different when you can readily picture the people it’s affecting.
More Attention to Patients and Doctors
Many patients spoke about hardship cultivation, financial hardship programs, and discounts, often from the perspective that this is a medicine not covered by insurance. As in the last hearing, there were firsthand stories from patients asking us to consider how we may be able to encourage doctor education. One person asked why there were no working groups, small license types, and other such efforts under the medical program when we have them for adult-use program. Several speakers asked us to reconsider vertical integration requirements. There were requests for more patient education and for renewals that lasted two years instead of one.
Numerous people were concerned about the potency of products being sold and asked us to set THC potency limits. They also asked us to consider public education addressing concerns related to high-potency products.
There were many requests to reconsider the restrictions on marketing, specifically promotional item giveaways and discounts. There was a concern expressed that veteran discounts may not be able to be offered under these restrictions. A few people pointed out that the commission has promotional items (although that comparison was confusing to me, as we are a government agency, not a company marketing its products).
There was very thoughtful, although sometimes conflicting, feedback on evaluation criteria for the economic empowerment and social equity programs and whether eligibility for the economic empowerment program should be reopened. We were also asked generally about what we are doing for women and people of color and their businesses. They don’t automatically qualify for the programs but are known to face barriers and we are mandated to include and encourage them. One person noted the abysmal rates of participation among women and people of color must be rectified, and there were questions about why diversity plans are not resulting in better rates. Multiple people who identified as minority business owners said they did not feel they were being given a fair chance, particularly at the local level.
Predictability in Regulation
There were several areas where licensees identified concerns and questions, often about METRC, and a need for clarification. There were numerous calls to update agent registration requirements, testing protocols, definitions, and procedures, including requests for information and denial procedures. Multiple people asked us to revisit the wording of the renewal requirement regarding documentation of municipal costs.
There were many other topics raised, and surely several more will come up when we review the written feedback next week. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to so many thoughtful people from their different perspectives.
A couple last notes:
- Accessibility – There was a particularly effective demonstration that we need to do better in terms of accessibility at our hearings. It took courage and I commend it.
- Congressman Barney Frank – The most fun part of the hearing was when Congressman Frank opened his testimony by presenting a copy of “The Marijuana De-Control Act,” a bill he filed in December 1972, and said, “I told you so!”
- Testimony Prep – I know there were multiple testimony preparation workshops. I dropped by one briefly and heard the advice, “The best way to appear authentic is to be authentic”. I love that! Thank you to everyone who took the time to train others on how to become informed and engaged. I encourage more people to do this.
- Remember, it’s always a feedback period in some manner. Our formal public comment period ended tonight, but if you have further comments, there’s no reason why you can’t still send them in even if they won’t be considered part of the formal comments. Also, you can send me your feedback anytime, not just when there are drafts being reviewed.