Pubdate: Tue, 27 Feb 2018
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Dan Adams


State regulators voted Monday to limit the roll-out of recreational
marijuana sales in July, postponing licensing of home delivery
services and pot lounges while allowing retail pot shops and their
suppliers to open in July as scheduled.

The Cannabis Control Commission had been under pressure to delay
delivery and "social consumption" operations from Governor Charlie
Baker and other political figures, law enforcement officials, and
medical marijuana business interests, who had argued the nascent
agency was trying to do too much at the outset and would struggle to
oversee so many different types of operations.

"The administration is pleased that the commission has decided to
primarily focus on establishing safe and responsible regulated retail
sales as Mass. continues to implement this law," Baker said in
response to the vote.

The agency's five commissioners, however, insisted they were not
bowing to the governor, but rather they needed more time to work out
rules aimed at preventing impaired driving, underage sales, and other

In voting for the delay, they simultaneously pledged to have
regulations for delivery and social consumption outfits ready within a
year - and, in a major concession to activists, only grant those
licenses to people affected by the War on Drugs.

The Department of Public Health suspended retail sales of all medical
marijuana products at Healthy Pharms after a sample tested positive
for pesticides, officials said.

"I was willing to defer," said commission chair Steve Hoffman, "but I
was only personally willing to do so if we put an explicit timeline in
place to address these issues, and we did. ...I thought it was a great

Hoffman also struck back at the suggestion by Baker and others that
allowing the licenses immediately would have overwhelmed his agency.

"I reject the argument that we can't do it in time," Hoffman said.
"Had this decision gone differently and we had voted to do delivery
and social consumption, I'm totally confident in the commission's
ability to process those applications and regulate those businesses
after that."

The vote was a setback for those who wanted an immediate roll-out of
delivery and social consumption licenses. But activists managed to
salvage a major concession when the commission voted 4-1 to grant
those licenses, when they become available in 2019, at first only to
those with convictions for drug crimes in the past, or closely related
to someone with convictions, or who lived in areas with high numbers
of arrests for drug offenses - mostly minority neighborhoods that were
identified through a study of arrest rates and other data.

Commissioner Kay Doyle was the lone no vote. Earlier, she expressed
concerns about oversight of delivery operations.

"I am concerned about ID-checking," Doyle said. "We may not have
sufficient staff to [monitor] compliance."

Activists had argued Baker's delay would violate a cornerstone
principle of the state's marijuana law: creating a broad, accessible
industry that gives people swept up in the pre-legalization "war on
drugs" opportunities to profit now that cannabis is legal.

"The major problem with delaying these licenses is the effect it will
have on the opportunity for equitable market participation in this
industry," said Commissioner Shaleen Title, who was a long time
activist before her appointment last year. "If we were to delay these
licenses without intentionally addressing these consequences, we would
be violating our clear instructions to promote the inclusion of people
from disproportionately harmed communities."

The solution, she added, was "to control the market opportunities so
that [smaller participants] don't get ignored and left behind yet again."

Delivery services and social consumption places would be far less
costly to get underway than a retail shop or large cultivation
operation, activists argue, making them appealing to entrepreneurs who
don't have the backing of major investors. They also said that banning
social consumption venues would leave tenants of rental apartments and
subsidized housing with nowhere to legally consume the drug,
potentially exposing them to eviction.

Under the compromise, two other categories of small marijuana
businesses - "craft" cooperatives of marijuana growers and
"microbusinesses" that can only produce small amounts of marijuana and
edibles - would also be allowed to deliver when the licenses are
issued next year.

But retail pot shops, larger growers, and manufacturers of edibles and
other cannabis products could not offer delivery services of their own
for a period to be defined - perhaps as long as five years - meaning
they would have to partner with one of the so-called "equity" businesses.

"No small business or equity applicant would have even had product
ready to deliver until close to the end of the year, so starting
everything at the same time would have let the established,
well-financed dispensaries corner the market," said Shanel Lindsay, a
cannabis business owner and activist. Now, she said, "we actually have
a chance for equity and meaningful participation by small businesses.
This is much better all around."

The industry group representing medical dispensaries, which argued the
delay would help ensure a smoother start to retail sales, questioned
why its members would be excluded from offering delivery services if
they were licensed to sell marijuana to consumers in addition to
registered patients.

"On the surface it seems pretty arbitrary and possibly
discriminatory," said David Torrisi, a former state legislator and
executive director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association. "I
don't think the government should be in the business of matchmaking
business partners."

The commission on Monday also voted unanimously to add an explicit
consideration of race as one possible criteria for another equity
program that grants faster review of license applications to
businesses that benefit communities disproportionately affected by
drug arrests.
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MAP posted-by: Matt