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Cannabis Control Commission seeks meeting with governor’s coronavirus reopening advisory board after closure of recreational shops during pandemic

As Massachusetts’ adult-use marijuana businesses face severe financial losses and await a chance to open up again amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cannabis Control Commission has offered to speak to an advisory board planning the state’s reopening.

Gov. Charlie Baker has appointed the 17-member board to come up with a plan to reopen the state by May 18 as the rate of COVID-19 cases starts to trend down. Baker banned non-essential businesses from operating in March. While recreational marijuana was not considered essential, medical marijuana dispensaries have been allowed to operate.

Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman said Thursday that he has not spoken with Baker but has spoken with some of his staff members.

“We have also reached out to the governor’s advisory board and told them we’d be delighted to come in if they had any questions or concerns about how this industry could be operated safely, but we have not received a request to do so at this point in time,” Hoffman said to reporters after the commission’s meeting on Thursday.

The reopening advisory board is scheduled to meet with representatives of the cannabis industry on Saturday, officials said Thursday evening.

“The Reopening Advisory Board continues to meet with a variety of business groups and community coalitions, and will make specific recommendations to the Governor in accordance with public health guidelines,” said an Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development spokesperson.

The board is scheduling and holding regular meetings to solicit input as they develop a reopening report due on May 18, officials said.

“I am really hopeful that the way this advisory board is going to operate is to get away from this debate about essential versus non-essential, which again, as you know, we have not taken issue with the governor’s original determination about essentiality, but I’m hoping that the advisory board goes in a direction of what can be done safely,” Hoffman said. “I think that’s an easier and probably more important conversation to have than ‘essentiality.’”

Hoffman has said several times that he believes the adult-use industry can operate safely amid the pandemic.

“I think we’ve demonstrated that we can do so on the medical side of the business,” Hoffman said. “We have been creative, we’ve been flexible, we’ve been quick-moving and I think there’s absolutely no reason we can’t do exactly the same thing on the adult-use side.”

Since March, the commission has made changes to try and ease the burden on cannabis businesses and medical patients and promote safety. It has allowed medical dispensaries to offer curbside pickup, patients to renew their registration via telehealth methods and for the recreational market to support the medical market via wholesale transfers.

Hoffman noted that he is not privy to any discussions the advisory board is having and is not sure how Baker will react to the board’s recommendations.

“I’m hopeful that the advisory board, and then the governor making decisions based upon the advisory board’s recommendations, uses the criteria of what can be operated safely as an important dimension of their decision making,” Hoffman said. “I do want the opportunity, I hope I get the opportunity, to meet with, or the commission to meet with the advisory board and convince them that we are totally confident of our ability to operate this industry safely and have the opportunity to answer any questions or address any concerns that they might have.”

Massachusetts is the only state with legal marijuana that has halted recreational marijuana sales during the pandemic.