Majority of pot board opposed referendum
New cannabis commission seeds concerns about the law’s future
THE NEW CANNABIS Control Commission is now complete but, with the appointment of yet two more members who voted against the ballot question to legalize marijuana, the panel has a majority who opposed the measure and just one proponent, who was one of the drafters of the initiative petition.
Attorney General Maura Healey appointed Britte McBride of Lynnfield, a former assistant attorney general, as her selection to the commission. The final two appointees, Kay Doyle, who was legal counsel to the Department of Public Health and oversaw the medical marijuana implementation, and Shaleen Title, an attorney who runs a staffing service for the legal marijuana industry, were made by a joint decision of Gov. Charlie Baker, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, and Healey.
They will join former state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, who was appointed by Baker, and retired business executive Steven Hoffman of Lincoln, who was tapped by Goldberg and named the chair. Flanagan had stated her opposition to the ballot question last fall while officials with the treasurer and attorney general’s office confirmed that Hoffman, McBride, and Doyle all voted against the referendum.
Beletsky cautioned that some of the members may have voted against the ballot question for reasons other than being opposed to legal marijuana.
“One might speculate folks who voted against the ballot measure are generally opposed to the regulation of adult use but there were issue with the ballot measure, with the way things were formulated,” Beletsky said. “There’s good reason some people argue that things like regulation of marijuana should be pursued through legislation rather than ballot measure.”
But a proponent of the ballot question was more blunt.
“We’re concerned that 54 percent of voters voted for Question 4 but 80 percent of the Cannabis Control Commission voted against it,” said Jim Borghesani, the spokesman for the ballot campaign. “It would be helpful for us to hear those reasons for why they voted no. We would like to hear each of the people who voted no that their personal position will in not influence their professional responsibilities to implement the will of the voters.”
Baker and Healey, along with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, joined forces to try to defeat the ballot question. Beletsky said the appointments could signal their true feelings.
But, Belesky said, having skeptics on the commission may not necessarily be a bad thing for regulating a new market centered around a previously illegal drug.
“They’re trying to calibrate regulation of a new entrant to the market of mind-altering substances,” said Beletsky. “Being cautious is certainly warranted but also being cognizant of how marijuana is going to affect the landscape. Marijuana is not risk free but it is much less risky than other behaviors. They’ll try to determine, how do we shape this regulatory architecture to nudge people from more risky to less risky behaviors?”
Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor and dean of the school of arts and humanities at Stonehill College, said the appointments may signal the continued opposition by elected officials to the law but he said it also could assure voters that it won’t become the wild west of weed.
“The public might be reassured by having people who were initially opposed to this in charge of overseeing this,” he said. “People feel comfortable they are not rushing toward some form of reefer madness. You can exercise reasonable oversight even if you’re opposed to legal marijuana.”
None of the five members could be reached for comment. Baker, Healey, and Goldberg all issued statements hailing the appointees backgrounds and their offices included statements from the new members. None of the releases noted the appointees’ positions on the ballot question, which were confirmed by aides to Goldberg and Healey.
“I am honored and humbled by this appointment and want to thank Governor Baker, Attorney General Healey and Treasurer Goldberg for the opportunity to continue serving the Commonwealth,” Doyle said in her statement. “I look forward to working with Chairman Hoffman and my fellow commissioners to implement safe and sensible regulations that protect the health and wellness of Massachusetts residents.”
Title, a nationally recognized advocate for legal marijuana, said her focus will be on creating opportunities for minorities as well as those who ran afoul of now-outdated marijuana laws, many of which observers say disproportionately impacted people of color.
“I’m honored to be entrusted with implementing the will of the Commonwealth’s voters in forming a new post-prohibition approach to regulating marijuana in way that will effectively protect public health and safety,” Title said. “I’m especially eager to help Massachusetts set a good example for other states in creating a newly legal market that champions equity, including for communities that have been targeted by past criminalization policies.”
The ballot question was approved by voters last November by a 54-46 margin. A delay by the Legislature pushed back many of the implementation deadlines so now the first shops will be up and running no earlier than July 1, 2018. But the commission must formulate regulations and guidelines for operations not only for retail stores but growers, manufacturers, testing labs, and transportation, all with an eye on federal laws that still hold the sale and use of marijuana to be illegal.With the tight deadlines, pot advocates worry that a board made up of mostly referendum opponents will drag their heels and make it difficult for the market to begin next summer.
“As long as the deadlines are met, that’s the key thing,” said Borghesani. “After all of the delays, we at least finally have a commission seated.”