Pubdate: Wed, 07 Feb 2018
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Globe Newspaper Company
Authors: Joshua Miller and Dan Adams


The Baker administration chastised Massachusetts pot regulators this
week, saying their draft plan to create one of the world's most
permissive regulated marijuana markets goes too far, too fast.

The Baker administration chastised Massachusetts pot regulators this
week, saying their draft plan to create one of the world's most
permissive regulated marijuana markets goes too far, too fast.

In a letter to the Cannabis Control Commission dated Monday , the
governor's office warned the independent agency that it had reached
beyond the core mandate of the state's marijuana legalization law by
proposing the licensure of businesses not seen in other states'
recreational markets: sit-and-get-high cafes, pot delivery services
not tied to dispensaries, and even movie theaters that want to offer
patrons cannabis-laced snacks.

Instead, a top Baker administration lawyer said, the commission should
focus its limited resources on the already daunting task of setting up
regulations for the marijuana industry's basic elements - farms,
manufacturers, stores, and testing labs - by July 1, when recreational
marijuana sales are scheduled to begin in the state.

"We are concerned that the commission has added to the inherent
difficulty of this assignment by expanding its initial licensing
scheme beyond the immediate requirements" of the law, Robert C. Ross,
general counsel of Governor Charlie Baker's budget office, wrote in a
letter obtained through a public records request. "As this new
industry is established: Simpler is better."

Taken in total, the letter marks the governor's most substantive
public foray into marijuana policy since 2017, when he signed a law
revising the ballot measure legalizing cannabis in Massachusetts and
appointed some of the commissioners.

Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for the commission, defended the agency's
rule-writing process Tuesday, saying cannabis officials had sought
extensive public feedback on the draft regulations. She also suggested
that Baker's input wouldn't necessarily prevail over comments from
others as the commission tweaks and finalizes its regulations in
advance of a March 15 deadline.

"It is encouraging that small farmers, businesses, and individuals
along with large advocacy groups and government agencies across the
state can be equally represented in this open dialogue," Joyce said.

Still, the pointed letter from Baker's administration is likely to
carry weight. While the cannabis commission is technically
independent, Baker and the Legislature control its budget, and the
agency's five commissioners are appointed by the governor, treasurer,
and attorney general.

The letter from Ross also calls for various technical fixes. For
example, it suggests clarifying the mandate that a retailer can't sell
more than one ounce of pot to a consumer at a time. ("May a retailer
sell five ounces to a single consumer on the same day, provided each
transaction is separated by an interval of 10 minutes? Or an interval
of 60 minutes?" Ross asks.)

The nine-page letter also asks the commission to add a catchall
provision to the list of reasons it may deny licensure or employment,
giving officials broader discretion over who may participate in the
marijuana industry.

With the letter, Baker has placed himself firmly on one side of a
schism within the state's marijuana community, standing with medical
dispensary operators who want the cannabis commission to delay (or
scrap) the licensing of delivery-only retailers, social-consumption
bars, and movie theaters and other businesses that wouldn't rely on
selling pot as their primary source of revenue.

The dispensaries, most of which plan to join the recreational market,
argue along with public health advocates and some legislators that
such operations would undercut the investments they were required to
make under the state's more onerous medical cannabis regulations, be
difficult to regulate, and risk inviting a crackdown by federal law
enforcement. And, like Baker's office, they question the capacity of
the cannabis commission to oversee so many different types of businesses.

"The residents of Massachusetts expect the [cannabis commission] to
walk with confidence before it runs," said David Torrisi, a former
state legislator who heads the Commonwealth Dispensary Association
industry group.

But on the other side are activists and entrepreneurs who say that an
expansive recreational licensing system with low barriers to entry
will give consumers more choices and create a more equitable industry.

They have accused the dispensaries of seeking protectionist policies,
and said Tuesday that Baker's stance on the novel licenses would
reduce the opportunities available to less-established players. That
would undercut, they said, the marijuana law's mandate that minorities
and other marginalized communities saddled with disproportionately
high arrest rates for drug crimes be included in the cannabis industry.

Similarly, activists decried Baker's proposal to give officials
essentially unlimited discretion over who can work in the industry,
saying that without clear, objective standards, bias could seep into
the process.

"It opens you up to discriminatory practices," said TaShonda
Vincent-Lee, who cofounded the marijuana networking group ELEVATE New
England. "We're right back to the haves and have-nots."

And without marijuana bars or cafes, Vincent-Lee added, medical
marijuana patients and pot consumers who live in federally subsidized
housing will have nowhere to legally use the drug, thanks to the
state's ban on public consumption and the federal prohibition on pot.

Kris Krane, a cannabis attorney and investor, said the Baker
administration is underestimating the cannabis commission - and
forgetting that the state has already delayed pot sales once, from
January to July.

"I think the [commission] can walk and chew gum at the same time,"
Krane said.

But state Representative Mark J. Cusack, the House chairman of the
Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy, said the governor's concerns are
"widely shared" among other "key stakeholders."

For example, he said pot delivery that isn't tied to a
brick-and-mortar dispensary was not envisioned by lawmakers who
crafted the statute.

"I have met with the commissioners over the last two weeks and made
them aware of my concerns, the legislative intent as well as areas of
the law they cannot change in their regulations," he said.

Besides Baker's budget office, formally called the Executive Office
for Administration & Finance, other agencies, such as those that
oversee public safety and public health, are poised to submit
additional comments to the commission in the coming days.
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