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Bumps in the road for cannabis delivery

Even before Chris Fevry launched Your Green Package, one of the first licensed marijuana courier companies in Massachusetts, he was worried about whether the business model was financially viable. Could a company act as an Uber Eats for marijuana, delivering products from a retailer to a customer, and earn enough from delivery fees to profit?

“We thought there was a way to actually make it work. And after a year of operating and about 40,000 deliveries under our belt, we find that with the two-driver rule it is literally impossible,” Fevry said on the Codcast this week.

Fevry and Julia Germaine, operating partner at marijuana delivery company KindRun, appeared on the Codcast to discuss their efforts to lobby the Cannabis Control Commission to loosen the regulations governing marijuana delivery businesses. They circulated a petition, which has been signed online by 400 people, urging regulators to eliminate a rule requiring two drivers in each car, get rid of limits on which municipalities delivery companies can operate in, and make other changes to delivery rules as they launch their next regulatory review this fall.

The second driver is an added layer of complexity that certainly we don’t need,” Germaine said. “We have certain instances where I would want a second driver, in case we can’t park if we’re at a multi-tenant building in Boston. But that’s a business decision.

The first marijuana delivery companies were licensed a little more than a year ago. For the first three years of operations, only social equity applicants – those from communities disproportionately affected by prior enforcement of drug laws – could obtain licenses. 

Fevry said he had to shut down locations in Worcester and Western Massachusetts because there was insufficient customer interest to justify the cost. He said the region has a lot of dispensaries, so most people can travel only a few minutes to reach one, and many residents have cars. Due to the fixed costs of operating the business, including the two drivers, Fevry said he had to set a minimum order size of $100 – but the average amount a recreational marijuana customer spends is closer to $50. 

Did Charlie Baker win last week’s state primary?

He was not on last week’s primary ballot, but Charlie Baker – or at least his brand of more middle-of-the-road pragmatism – actually had a good day at the polls, at least, ironically, in the Democratic primary. 

That was one big takeaway from the Massachusetts primary results offered up on this week’s Codcast by Samantha Gross, a State House reporter for the Boston Globe, and Liam Kerr, an organizer of the center-left policy group Priorities for Progress. 

Kerr said the “most important quote of the election” came from Cambridge state Rep. Mike Connolly, a left-leaning Democrat who was not necessarily thrilled with its outcome. “Democratic primary voters have been saying for years now that they support the moderate politics of Gov. Charlie Baker,” Connolly told Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky following Tuesday’s primary. 

That hardly seemed lost on Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey, who name-checked Baker twice in her victory speech on Tuesday night. 

The favorites of many progressive activists and organizations in Democratic statewide races either bowed out before Tuesday’s balloting or went down to defeat. “A lot of the far left,” said Kerr, has been “living in a fantasy land.” That view of state politics “just wasn’t reflected in what voters wanted and wasn’t reflected in the elections outside of JP and a couple other places,” he said, referring to Boston’s super liberal Jamaica Plain neighborhood. 

One big reason for that, Gross pointed out, is that 60 percent of voters now aren’t registered under either party banner, and these so-called “unenrolled” voters can vote in either party primary. “I think that you see that play out on the campaign trail,” she said. “You see it play out in the rhetoric that the candidates use, or at least the candidates that were successful on Tuesday night. They were able to play closer to the middle and kind of try to bring this independent brand of bipartisanship that Massachusetts voters go toward historically.” 

Another big takeaway, said Gross, is “how potentially history-making these races will be.” If Healey and her running mate, Kim Driscoll, prevail in November, they will be the first female governor-lieutenant governor duo ever elected in the country, and Healey would be the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts and first lesbian elected governor of a state. Meanwhile, Democratic attorney general nominee Andrea Campbell, if successful in November, would be the first Black woman to ever hold statewide office in Massachusetts. 

Kerr said the Republican primary for governor, meanwhile, exposed “fantasyland thinking” on the right – that businessman Chris Doughty, who pegged himself as the only electable choice, would pull off a victory and there would be a “real governor’s race” in November. Instead, Trump-loyal former state rep Geoff Diehl won, and now faces particularly steep odds in the general election. 

More than 1 million voters turned out for the primary, despite the lack of a contested Democratic race for governor, but that voter interest was accompanied by a troubling lack of clear knowledge about the races and the candidates in them. A MassINC Polling Group survey in mid-August, commissioned by Kerr’s organization, showed that nearly half of likely Democratic voters had never heard of Campbell, and more than half had never heard of Driscoll or Diana DiZoglio, who won the primary for state auditor. 

“That is a flashing red light for democracy in our state,” said Kerr, who added that we have to figure out better ways to connect voters with information on candidates, including the good quality journalism that he said is being done. 

Gross said she was struck by people arriving to cast ballots during early voting who were looking things up on their phones, still unsure about many of the races. 

“I talked to one woman who left every single race blank except for her local leaders in Quincy,” Gross said. “She did not vote for any statewide [offices]. So I think that there is some work to be done in just civic education about not only who these people are, but what they do in some of these races, particularly positions like the lieutenant governor or the auditor, where voters just don’t really understand, practically, what their role is.”   

Big money and unfinished Beacon Hill business

The Legislature passed a slew of bills at the end of the session, but there was still a lot of unfinished business, according to two Massachusetts policy analysts who compared notes on The Codcast. 

Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University and the host of this week’s podcast, said money wasn’t the problem. Between federal aid and a huge state surplus, Horowitz said, Massachusetts had billions of dollars in extra cash. 

“This session has been marked in a way quite different from earlier legislative sessions by the fact that there wasn’t a clear revenue constraint. That wasn’t what was stopping legislators from doing things,” he said. 

Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said the problem was setting priorities. 

“There are big things that we need to do and I think that part of the reason why there was such chaos at the end of the session is because people are pretty shortsighted about what’s happening right now and aren’t really looking at the long term and what we’re trying to build,” Rivera said. 

She said lawmakers need to get focused and address the state’s challenges in a more straightforward way. She suggested the Legislature designate specific months of the year to address key problems – for example, February for early child care and education and March for the MBTA. 

“We need to pace ourselves and commit to meeting deadlines,” she said. “We’re not really having the constructive conversations that we need to have to really solve these issues.” 

Rivera also urges caution on the tax cap, a voter-passed law from 1986 that was triggered this year and requires $2.9 billion in excess tax collections to be returned to taxpayers. Rivera says some of the money would go back to people who could really use it, but a lot of the money would go back to people who don’t really need it.

“There are lots of things we could do with that money,” she said, suggesting the law could be tweaked to steer the money toward addressing some of the state’s long-term problems. 

Rivera also isn’t backing away from her support for a constitutional amendment imposing a tax surcharge on income over $1 million. The so-called millionaire tax, which comes before voters in November, is expected to add $1.3 billion to $2 billion a year to state coffers. 

“Perhaps we have a surplus on the books right now, in this fiscal year, but we have to look at what’s the 10-year plan, what’s the 20-year plan. Our infrastructure is crumbling, right, so what revenue streams are we putting in place that are fair?” she asks. 

“My mind doesn’t change because we’ve had COVID and all this federal funding came through and our economy is a little funky right now,” she said.

Horowitz said he is worried about Beacon Hill’s ability to spend the money wisely. “Given what we saw this session about how legislators use money when they have it, what makes you confident that they will use the millionaire tax revenue in the ways that you are laying out?” he asked.

“To be totally honest, I’m not confident,” Rivera said.