Cannabis Control Commission holds final public hearing
Representatives of the Cannabis Control Commission held a final public hearing on Friday at the West Tisbury library. The lightly attended, 20-minute event was the final Island stop of an extensive public outreach campaign by the commission that began last fall.
Following the same protocol of the Oct. 17 public hearing, commission members — general counsel Christine Baily and commissioner Britte McBride — took public comment but did not answer questions.
Commissioners received a warm welcome, with several commenters giving them kudos for the commission’s work to date.
Aja Atwood, of Mashpee, co-founder of Trella Technologies, complimented the commission on its public outreach efforts.
“The public drafted this document, this is what we voted for,” she said, referring to the 100-page draft of proposed regulations that the commission has written over the course of its public listening tour. Atwood suggested there is room for improvement in the area of testing, and that regulations should be set and managed by a third party. “Test results should not go to the cultivators without any form of oversight,” she said. “We need to ensure all products that are received are safe.”
Atwood also addressed local opposition to legalization, which has cropped up frequently. “To those who created a petition campaign to scrap the regulations, mainly on Cape Cod, stating that ‘the draft goes beyond what the people of Massachusetts voted for,’ I beg to differ,” she said. “The people who attended previous public hearings and wrote letters and emails, they are the ones who drafted this document.”
Kaylea Moore, legislative liaison for Martha’s Vineyard for state representative Dylan Fernandes said it was essential that the commission address the Island factor — cannabis products will have to be shipped across federal waters to reach Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and will have to be sent to the mainland for testing. In June, Fernandes, along with state Sen. Julian Cyr, who also represents the islands, amended the state adult-use marijuana law to require the commission to promulgate regulations that address the Island factor. “Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket require special accommodation. The cookie cutter state policy often does not fit the needs of Dukes and Nantucket counties,” Moore said, reading from a prepared statement. “The regulations must take into consideration the legal implications of the unique geography of the Islands.”
David O’Brien, east coast director of government relations for Weedmaps, a California-based cannabis company that provides software to licensed cannabis operators and maintains an online directory of medical and non-medical dispensaries in the United States and Europe, complimented the commission for “putting forward a regulatory framework that has the potential to make Massachusetts a national leader in cannabis policy.” In particular, Mr. O’Brien cited the commission’s work on independent lab testing standards and the inclusion of social consumption regulations.
Mr. O’Brien asked the commission to reduce the cultivation licensing fee from 25 cents to 10 cents per square foot of the grow operation. He said the municipal opposition that has cropped up across the state will limit the number of licenses and properties for marijuana retailers and suggested the commission require license holders to commit to a timeline to the opening of the establishment of not more than 12 to 18 months. He recommended the commission set the minimum investment capital for a license be $750,000.
Mr. O’Brien said no other state that has legalized adult-use marijuana has “host community agreements,” where cities and towns decide on financial compensation from the retail establishment and about whether to zone for medical and non-medical marijuana dispensaries. “Massachusetts is very much an outlier on this matter,” he said. “We encourage you to approach these regulations in a manner that makes these agreements workable and conducive to a functioning adult-use cannabis market and come up with a template that can be used statewide.” O’Brien suggested limited financial compensation to only gross sales of retailers, and not all the way down the supply line, which would result in a 29 percent tax rate.
Massachusetts towns can authorize a 3 percent local sales tax at retail dispensaries.
Geoff Rose, CEO of West Tisbury-based Patient Centric, asked that canopy area be better defined in the regulations as “combined diameters of individual plants, and that it should only include the space where adult plants are being grown, not aisle space and floor space used for storage, processing, packaging or dispensing.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel asked that the commission regulate packaging of edibles so that children do not mistake infused products for candy.
The final draft of the proposed regulations is to be released on March 15. License applications are to begin April 1. Licenses will be awarded in June and retail sales are scheduled to start July 1.
Written comments can be submitted to the commission at CannabisCommission@state.ma.us. until 5 pm, Thursday, Feb. 15.
Speaking to The Times after the meeting, commissioner Britte McBride said she’s been impressed by the thoughtfulness of the comments she’s received over the five months of public sessions.
“We were charged with setting up safe and sensible regulations, while diminishing the illicit market, that’s what the voters asked us to do,” she said. “The whole point of the draft regulations is to get input where the answers may not be as clear. The public has really turned out in numbers, which is what we had hoped for.”
McBride acknowledged Dukes and Nantucket counties are in a unique situation when it comes to medical and non-medical marijuana. “It’s a tough nut to crack, but I know Senator Cyr and Representative Fernandes take it very seriously.”
Although many on Beacon Hill are saying the process is being rushed, McBride said she still believes responsible regulations can be in place by July 1, but that won’t be the end of policy formulation.
“It’s highly likely issues will come up from a diverse array of voices,” she said. “This is the foundation. We’re not done as of July 1.”
McBride acknowledged that a tough nut yet to be cracked is a decision on whether towns that place a moratorium on retail sales will be entitled to a share of the tax money raised from sales statewide.
She said product testing will initially be done by independent, accredited laboratories. In the long run, the commission hopes to establish state-run testing facilities.
Addressing oversight concerns, McBride said the commission intends to hire a chief of investigations and enforcement and that spot inspections, secret shoppers, and I.D. checks will be part of an active monitoring effort.