House jumps back into pot policy

It’s been five months since House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was unaware of any legislation filed by the Cannabis Control Commission seeking to change state laws around agreements between marijuana companies and their host communities.

A month before that, a legislative committee (with DeLeo-appointed co-chair Rep. David Rogersheld a public hearing on a bill that would let the Cannabis Control Commission regulate host community agreements – a policy the CCC publicly voted in favor of in January 2019. But DeLeo’s comments, which Senate President Karen Spilka agreed with at the time, illustrated the lack of interest lawmakers had in making further tweaks to the state’s marijuana laws.

DeLeo is unaware no longer.

On Wednesday, the full House will take up a bill that would clarify the rules around host community agreements, which are pacts marijuana businesses must sign with their host municipality as a condition of state licensure. This would be the first significant marijuana-related bill the Legislature will vote on since its July 2017 overhaul of the 2016 ballot question.

Today, state law caps the “community impact fees” that communities can charge companies at 3 percent of sales. But many agreements either blatantly ignore that cap or require other payments, such as mandatory charitable donations. The Cannabis Control Commission, which oversees the marijuana industry, has said it does not believe it has authority under current law to review or order revisions to host community agreements. (One commission member, Shaleen Title, has abstained on most license votes, however, as a “symbolic gesture” of protest against agreements that exceed the 3 percent limit.)

Budding entrepreneurs say the cost of host community agreements makes it harder for mom-and-pop shops, which don’t have the backing and financing of multi-state marijuana conglomerates, to compete with Big Pot when it comes to negotiating with cities and towns.

Meanwhile, US Attorney Andrew Lelling has convened a grand jury to investigate host community agreements. No charges have yet stemmed from that investigation, which opened after the feds arrested then-Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia on charges of taking bribes in exchange for municipal approvals of marijuana companies.

The version of the bill reported out of the House Ways and Means Committee Monday night makes explicit that the cap on community impact fees includes “monetary payments, in-kind contributions and charitable contributions.” It continues a requirement that community impact fees be reasonably related to the costs imposed on municipalities by the marijuana business, but for the first time communities would have to document those costs.

The Cannabis Control Commission would receive authority to “review, regulate and enforce” host community agreements.

When the bill was reported out of the Cannabis Policy Committee in late January, committee chair Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz said the bill “seeks to put more explicit guard rails on the development of [host community agreements], to restore balance to the market and enable entrepreneurs who don’t have $1 million in starting capital to still have a chance at competing.”

The State House News Service reported that the Marijuana Policy Project, which was behind the marijuana legalization ballot question, had been asking members to call lawmakers and urge them to take up the bill. Marijuana Policy Project New England political director Matt Simon wrote in an email that the host community agreement requirement “has created significant problems, especially for smaller businesses.”

Now that lawmakers appear willing to dip a toe into pot policy, one wonders what comes next. Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill to crack down on marijuana-impaired drivers, perhaps?

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


BEACON HILL

Republican Ed Lyons publishes a lengthy six-part series exploring the winning ways of Gov. Charlie Baker. (Medium)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A complaint filed by a civil rights group says Boston’s planning agency has has denied non-English speakers a voice in discussions on the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs by failing to provide “competent” translation services at public meetings on the project. (AP)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In closing arguments in President Trump’s impeachment trial, Rep. Adam Schiff implored Senate Republicans to summon the courage to convict him, while defense lawyers say the president did nothing wrong. (New York Times)

Family and friends mourn the death of James Shaer, a longtime John Kerry aide (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

Who won the Iowa caucuses? Who knows. (Washington Post)

Education policy consultant and Iowa native Chad Alderman laments the fact that his home state’s caucus system and status as the first balloting of presidential elections drives Democratic candidates to embrace policies supporting more school spending “without paying too much attention to what’s actually happening in schools.” (The 74)

Deval Patrick outraised presidential competitors in Massachusetts last quarter. (WBUR)

Caroline Kennedy pens an op-ed backing Joe Biden for president, saying he is Democrats’ “best bet” to recapture the White House. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The coronavirus has introduced lots of uncertainty — a dreaded word in business — for Massachusetts firms tied into an increasingly global economy in which China is now the second biggest player. (Boston Globe)

A new 10-unit housing complex and a new four-unit retail space are among the projects coming down the pike from developers in Fall River. (Herald News)

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station warns of layoffs as decommissioning continues. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

The union representing police officers at UMass files a complaint alleging the college system violated a collective bargaining agreement by hiring a private firm to handle security at the former Mount Ida College campus in Newton which the university acquired. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Hull Public Schools superintendent Michael Devine has been relieved of his duties after taking a leave of absence, pending a Hull School Committee meeting into allegations of misconduct. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Cape Cod Healthcare withdrew its development of regional impact application with the Cape Cod Commission last week in order to hear more community response to a $180 million project to expand Cape Cod Hospital. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

More than 1 of every 5 of the 5,600 people receiving pensions from the MBTA retired while still in their 40s. (Boston Herald)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Expect delays for offshore wind, as Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, says the current schedule calls for federal regulators to complete their environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project in December. (CommonWealth)

And offshore wind may not be the only form of clean energy sought by Massachusetts to be delayed. Opponents of a power line running from Canada down through Maine carrying hydro-electricity on behalf of Massachusetts residents say they have filed enough signatures to force a vote on the project. (Bangor Daily News)

A Salem News editorial says a report commissioned by the Baker administration provides a roadmap for natural gas system improvements. (The Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Inmates at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley accuse the guards of retaliating against them in response to a brutal attack by inmates on three correctional officers. (CommonWealth)

MEDIA

The Daily Beast says Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron clashed with reporter Wesley Lowery over tweets Lowery sent last fall raising questions about a New York Times retrospective on the Tea Party movement and threatened to fire him if he stepped over the line again with social media messages deemed overtly political. (Lowery, a former Boston Globe reporter, tweeted last week that he’s leaving the Post to join a new streaming version of “60 Minutes” at CBS.)