The marijuana blame game

Cannabis Control Commission can only do so much

July 1 has come and gone and no one legally bought marijuana in Massachusetts. Plenty of people bought illegal marijuana and legally smoked it, sort of a “don’t ask/don’t tell” situation.

But the date viewed by many as a launch for retail recreational sales is now looking like the end of the summer, almost two years after voters approved a statewide referendum legalizing adult use. James Smith, a former state representative who championed legal weed back in the 1970s and now is an attorney representing the nascent industry, says the cause of the delay lays squarely with cities and towns who are dragging their feet on zoning and host agreements if they haven’t enacted bans and moratoriums.

“Parochialism, puritanicalism,” said Smith, who, along with Jennifer Flanagan of the state Cannabis Control Commission joined The Codcast to talk about the slow rollout of the law. “The statute and our history gives an awful lot of power to our communities…It’s as if we’re trying to site a nuclear waste dump downtown.”

Flanagan, a former state representative and senator who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Charlie Baker, acknowledged communities have the final word on stores and other facilities opening in their midst but said it’s more a lack of education than overt resistance that has been causing the delays.

“There’s a lot of questions by people serving in town government,” said Flanagan, who voted against the referendum before joining the board. “Some are really trying to get it down. This is a really big industry that will have an impact for years to come.”

Smith, who has been negotiating host agreements with communities for his firm’s clients, said some cities and towns are looking to extract more than the statutorily allowed 3 percent local tax and 3 percent cost mitigation agreement and that is hampering some companies’ abilities to open facilities. He said the demands are akin to shakedowns because there’s relatively little cost for the town associated with opening these kinds of stores, no more than a convenience store or a liquor store.

“We’re running into that everywhere; they want 4 percent, they want side deals,” said Smith.

Flanagan said the commission has heard about the higher demands but says there’s nothing they can do about it. They don’t see the agreements, only notice that one is reached as required by law. But, she said, the anecdotes concern her.

“I think there are some cities and towns that need more education,” she said. “It causes me concern that people are trying to milk the system for more money.”

Both Flanagan and Smith said the impact on communities of a ruling by Attorney General Maura Healey allowing Mansfield to extend its moratorium until next June will have minimal impact. They agreed the ruling was narrowly focused on Mansfield and unlikely to have a wider application.

“Mansfield might have been a unique situation,” Smith said.

Flanagan refused to put a date on when the retail industry will get rolling. She said the July 1 target date was not set in statute but turned into an “end-all-be-all date” among advocates and the media. And while she insists cities and towns aren’t purposefully hampering the implementation, she acknowledged the commission can only do so much. She said the commission doesn’t even know the exact number of cities and towns with bans and moratoriums.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

“They don’t have to answer to us,” she said.

Smith, though, said they do have to answer to the voters, who spoke loud and clear in 2016.

“They might have one or two by Labor Day, maybe a half dozen by the end of the year, then it should start flowing but it’s going a lot slower than anyone thought,” he said. “The majority of us voted for it, the majority of us should have access to it.”