Tuesday, October 1, 2019, 10:00am, State House Room A-2
Submitted by: Shaleen Title, Commissioner
Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
101 Federal Street 13th Floor
Boston, MA 02110
Dear Chair Chang-Diaz, Chair Rogers, and members of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on bills related to criminal justice, social equity, and municipal regulation.
I support H. 3522 and S. 1123 to ensure full participation in the marijuana industry. I am especially thankful to the sponsors for including a mechanism to use a portion of cannabis business fees for funding for municipalities that wish to create their own social equity programs.
Operating Under the Influence
I support H. 3524 to continue the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence. Its recommendations were particularly thoughtful because they were publicly deliberated by the members of the special commission from law enforcement, civil rights groups, and various other experts.
Consideration of any other change in OUI laws would be informed by the recommendations from that special commission and by the policy considerations in the Baseline Review and Assessment of Cannabis Use and Public Safety Part 1: Operating Under the Influence prepared by the Cannabis Control Commission Research Department, which specifically guides against any “per se” law.
With regard to H. 3527, which would prevent any type of marijuana establishment from being built within 500 feet of daycare centers or any facility in which children commonly congregate, and S. 1122, which would restrict any type of marijuana establishment from being permitted within 500 feet of a place of worship, I ask you to consider the Commission’s Municipal Equity Guidance.
The guidance states, “according to feedback from the Cannabis Advisory Board Subcommittee on Market Participation and public feedback to the Commission, real estate is one of the primary hurdles for small businesses and businesses owned by people from marginalized communities. When municipalities impose overly strict zoning rules and large buffer zones, they sharply limit the number of parcels available to potential operators.”
In my experience, existing buffer zones are one significant factor explaining why so few microbusinesses, co-ops, economic empowerment applicants and social equity program participants have been licensed, and an expansion would exacerbate that problem. As explained in our guidance, any limitation to a very small number of properties “favors large businesses with substantial financial resources that can outbid other potential operators and overpay for a lease or purchase of property—often at the expense of smaller, local companies—and tends to direct large rewards to a small handful of landlords and property owners.”
Please also consider that large buffer zones can push marijuana establishments into one small area. As stated in our guidance, “overly strict local zoning in other states has also led to complaints that cannabis businesses were crowded into small sections of a municipality, often areas with a vulnerable or low-income population.”
Lastly on this topic, please consider that descriptions that can be difficult to define or apply may cause confusion. The current law that creates a restriction from “a pre-existing public or private school providing education in kindergarten or any of grades 1 through 12” is sensible in its specificity. My opinion is that adding restrictions that are more difficult to define, including places of worship and facilities where children would commonly congregate, would slow down the approval, licensing, and opening of marijuana establishments.
With regard to H. 3597 which would impose a local sales tax on medical cannabis, I would ask you to consider the reasons that the Commission recently removed the annual fee for medical cannabis patients. Patients have already undergone an extensive and expensive process to be certified, and they purchase expensive medicine without insurance covering it. Many medical cannabis patients are disabled, elderly, and/or on a fixed income. Because of federal restrictions, veterans often have to see multiple physicians for the same diagnosis in order to stay certified as medical cannabis patients. There are many similar items to consider in the context of imposing a financial burden on patients.
I support S. 1131 regarding expungements of convictions for marijuana possession and H. 3515 which would provide parity for people who live in apartments.
I believe that any expansion of civil or criminal penalties should be accompanied by the tracking of race/ethnicity of all persons with cannabis-related violation incidents. The basis for that and other policy considerations can be found in the Baseline Review and Assessment of Cannabis Use and Public Safety Part 2: 94C Violations and Social Equity prepared by the Cannabis Control Commission Research Department.
Thank you for your time and consideration.