Final approval given to two retail pot stores
Cannabis commissioner abstains in opposition to host community agreements
THE STATE BOARD overseeing the nascent marijuana industry gave final approval to the first licenses for retail stores Thursday with some conditions. But the vote, one of the most momentous the panel has yet taken, was not unanimous with one commissioner abstaining because of problems with the host community agreements.
The Cannabis Control Commission approved final licenses for Cultivate of Leicester and New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton to begin sales of recreational marijuana, though it will be at least a few more weeks because some final inspections must be performed and waivers given and, most importantly, there are no testing labs yet licensed to certify the marijuana. In addition to the retail license, Cultivate received final approval for cultivation and manufacturing licenses.
While the commission’s staff recommended all four licenses be approved, Commissioner Shaleen Title declined to cast a vote because of what she said were issues with the agreements with the communities that exceed the statutory cap. Title, who lost a vote earlier this summer to have the commission review host agreements for compliance, said she will continue to abstain when she sees what she believes are illegal deals.
“I will vote yes when I see a host community agreement that complies with the law,” Title told reporters after the meeting. “I think that is my duty. The commission made that decision [not to review agreements] and I lost that decision. I respect that. But I can’t, on principle, vote for a license that does not comply with the law.”
Amanda Rositano, director of operational compliance for NETA, said her company’s agreement with the western Massachusetts city is legal.
“We’re comfortable with the agreement that we reached,” she told reporters, but declined to comment on Title’s abstention or comments.
Title has argued that many of the host agreements drafted by cities and towns exceed the statutory limits of a 3 percent tax on retail sales and an additional tax of up to 3 percent of gross revenues to pay for expenses incurred by communities. She and others say the higher demands by some communities favor big-money companies and could squeeze smaller businesses out of the market.
Chairman Steven Hoffman, who said the votes were a big milestone, said he respects Title’s decision and in some ways agrees with her stance, but said the commission’s hands are tied because the legislation does not give the board enforcement power over the agreements.
“I respect very much how she feels on this topic,” Hoffman said. “I actually agree there is a problem with some of these host community agreements.”
Both Cultivate and NETA operate medical marijuana dispensaries and must now get waivers from the Department of Public Health for non-patients to enter the premises as well as permission to transfer up to 65 percent of their medical marijuana stock to the adult use operations. The companies also have to log into the commission’s seed-to-sale tracking program so all products are accounted for all along the way.
Hoffman dismissed growing criticism of the commission that it is too slow in launching the industry, with some advocates of adult use of marijuana saying the agency lacks the staff to effectively review the hundreds of applications flooding in.
Jim Borghesani, who was the campaign manager for the 2016 referendum that legalized recreational pot and earlier this week questioned the pace of permitting, gave muted praise to what he said was “a tardy milestone.”
“We have to be careful that we don’t let caution turn into obstruction,” he said.
Prior to the vote on licenses, the commission also reviewed some data about diversity in the industry. According to voluntary submissions from 651 applicants seeking certification to work in the industry, the overwhelming majority are male and white. According to the data, nearly 78 percent of those applying to become agents are white, only 8 percent are Hispanic, and 5.5 percent are black.
The numbers aren’t much better when it comes to gender, with nearly 67 percent of applicants male and 32 percent female, with the remainder declining to answer. Two female marijuana entrepreneurs recently joined CommonWealth for a Codcast about the challenges of being women in the growing industry.
The commission has pushed to make the industry more inclusive with social equity programs and preference for those disproportionately affected by marijuana laws, mostly in communities or color. Several of the commissioners expressed disappointment at the numbers and said they’ll be keeping an eye on them.“We are now reaching a point where we really need to view all ways on how to Increase diversity,” said Commissioner Britte McBride.