Pubdate: Thu, 01 Mar 2018
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Colin A. Young


The state Cannabis Control Commission split 3-2 Wednesday over whether
to automatically disqualify people with trafficking convictions from
working with legal marijuana.

People with a prior conviction for trafficking in drugs other than
marijuana will be barred from working in jobs that include access to
the plant in the newly legal marijuana industry, a decision made after
about an hour of tense debate among state pot regulators.

The Cannabis Control Commission split 3-2 on Wednesday afternoon over
whether to automatically disqualify people with trafficking
convictions from working with marijuana, adding those convictions to a
list of automatically disqualifying issues like being registered as a
sex offender, open or unresolved criminal proceedings, violent felony
convictions, and felony convictions involving drugs other than marijuana.

"The reason that I'm asking for this is that this is different than
simple possession. It's different even than distribution. This is
really talking about quantity and significant quantity of drugs like
fentanyl, meth, cocaine - drugs that kill people," Commissioner Britte
McBride said. "I firmly believe that someone who has that level of
offense should be prohibited from operating as a marijuana
establishment agent."

Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan agreed with McBride and said she thinks
disqualifying people for trafficking in drugs other than marijuana
does not run counter to the commission's legal mandate to ensure that
the marijuana industry is accessible to people from communities with
disproportionate rates of drug crime arrests and incarceration.

"For me, trafficking is a nonstarter. I think there is a very large
difference between someone who had been arrested for possession and
someone who has been actively trafficking in the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts," Flanagan said. "For me, if you're trafficking then
you're in a whole different category and I don't feel bad about the

Chairman Steven Hoffman and Commissioner Shaleen Title found
themselves in the minority on the issue and argued that the mandatory
exclusion would create undue burdens for people who have served their
time and now want to get their lives back on track.

"We're talking about employees, we're talking about people that have
paid their debt to society, we are talking about people that will be
hired because employers think they have skills and the character to do
the job, and we're talking about people that might not be able to get
any other job," Hoffman said. "One of the great parts of the
legislation we're trying to enact and enable . . . is to actually play
a positive role in helping in that respect."

Title said the blanket exclusion would not be necessary because of the
other layers of scrutiny prospective employees will face before being

First, they would have to be hired by a licensed marijuana
establishment and be deemed an acceptable employee by that business.

Then they would be subject to the commission's mandatory background
check process, which could reveal potential issues and give an
employer a chance to rescind a job offer.

Finally, the Cannabis Control Commission would have a chance to
disqualify applicants on the grounds of suitability under the terms of
an agency discretion policy the commission agreed to earlier Wednesday.

"We would already, under that process, be able to exclude someone,"
Title said. She added, "I have a deep concern about taking away our
discretion with the mandatory exclusion."

Commissioner Kay Doyle joined McBride and Flanagan in voting in favor
of the mandatory disqualification but said she favored the exclusion
because the industry is new and would support a periodic review of the
criteria for mandatory exclusions.

McBride also argued that adopting final regulations without a blanket
exclusion for convicted drug traffickers will attract unwanted
attention from the federal Department of Justice, which earlier this
year rescinded an Obama-era policy that essentially directed federal
prosecutors to look the other way in states that have established
legal marijuana markets.

"We can't avoid the fact that since we drafted these regulations in
December the enforcement landscape has shifted. . . . We are dealing
in a world where unwanted federal attention could lead to undermining
the industry we're working really hard to establish," McBride said.

Wednesday concluded the Cannabis Control Commission's three days of
policy debate, based on feedback from elected officials, interest
groups, and citizens about the draft regulations.

Among the changes agreed to by the commission this week was the
decision to delay licensing home delivery services and on-premises
consumption establishments for about a year, bowing to pressure from
Governor Charlie Baker and others.

"I think the fact that the Cannabis Control Commission made the
decision to go a little slower on its rollout and to focus on coming
out of the gate strictly on dispensaries and limiting the activity to
begin with to that is a good example of how we need to think about
this," Baker said Wednesday.

The commission plans to meet again March 6 and 7 to approve the final
language of the package of marijuana industry regulations.

The final regulations must be filed with the secretary of state by
March 15.
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