Pot chair says no pressure on regs
Warnings from top officials will not slow commission timeline
THE CHAIRMAN OF the state board charged with regulating legal pot said he and his colleagues are feeling no added pressure in light of comments from top elected officials calling for the panel to slow down on issuing regulations for a broad array of marijuana businesses.
The Cannabis Control Commission is wrapping up its public comment period on its draft regulations with the last of a series of public hearings around the state. Beginning last week, Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, all of whom opposed the 2016 ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana, have voiced concerns over the breadth of proposals that include not only retail stores and manufacturers but potential delivery-only services, pot cafes, permitting sales in movie theaters and other venues, and a variety of other businesses not specifically mentioned in the original law.
Commission chairman Steven Hoffman said the comments by the elected officials are welcome along with those of the general public and everybody’s opinion matters, though none more than others.
“We have a public comment period and we’re in the middle of that public comment period,” said Hoffman after the commission’s meeting Tuesday morning. “Everything carries weight. We’re going to listen to and read about all the comments we’ve been getting.”
Many of the businesses being proposed by the commission are designed to allow disadvantaged communities, especially minorities, get a foot in the door without heavy upfront costs, something both the referendum and the legislative statute mandated. The public comment period is slated to wrap up this week and the commission will hold public meetings to hammer out the final guidelines so they can be enacted by March 15 to meet the first mandated licenses issued in April.
Hoffman reiterated his intent to and confidence in hitting the July 1 target for the start of sales but said rolling out the licenses slowly would be on the table for discussion, though it would not be “open-ended” if that’s what they decide to do. But he said delaying any aspect of the business would be a “tradeoff” that would allow one segment to get a jump on others who may not be able to raise the money for immediate entry into the industry.
“Tradeoffs are giving people head starts in the marketplace and making it more difficult for others to enter later on,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a problem as much as that’s the tradeoff that I think as a commission we’re going to talk about.”
Baker, speaking with reporters Monday following a meeting with DeLeo and Senate President Harriette Chandler, pointed to the bumps other states faced while implementing legalized marijuana and said the commission should learn from those mistakes.
“All of us want to see the market for recreational legal marijuana get off to a good start here in Massachusetts,” said Baker. “I think the experience coming out of both Colorado and Oregon has been that this is a very tough industry to regulate straight out of the gate and people should crawl before they walk and walk before they run.”
DeLeo said the Legislature’s intent when it rewrote the law last summer was to gradually get the industry up and running in a methodical fashion and not ramp up everything at once.
“I feel that we’re probably going a little bit quicker than I would like to see in terms of these other issues coming up, whether they be selling door to door delivery, whether they be cafes or whatnot,” DeLeo said. “I want to make sure that we have the basics done relative to seed to sale before we proceed further and we can at least get that process done.”
The secretary also cautioned about the dangers of driving under the influence should the commission move forward with permitting on-site consumption.
“We are concerned that the Commission’s proposed regulations take an aggressive approach that goes beyond what is required to implement the requirements” of the law, Bennett wrote. “We believe that the difficulties of safely administering the adult use marijuana market in the near term will be multiplied by the proposed licensing of social consumption establishments, mixed-use social consumption establishments, and home delivery retail services.”
Will Luzier, who chaired the campaign behind the referendum and is now a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the fears expressed by the officials, all pot opponents, are nothing new and should not deter the commission from moving forward with broad regulations.“It’s difficult to throw off 80 years of propaganda surrounding cannabis,” Luzier said following the commission’s meeting. “I think it’s important to get this economy going, particularly for people who are relying on these jobs. I don’t think it’s appropriate to slow it down.”
Information from State House News Service was used in this report.