Last week, the commission unveiled proposed guidance that mostly sided with the industry, warning local officials that fees beyond those related to actual costs imposed by marijuana facilities could be illegal taxes.
This week, the commission formally approved that guidance, although it included minor changes that appeared to open the door to limited payments above the 3 percent cap, such as fees for the cost of the licensing process. Still, even those fees must be directly related to real expenses, the guidance said, not a shakedown.
The real debate, however, was over whether the agency should require applicants to submit their host community agreements so officials can review them for compliance with the cap.
Commissioners Kay Doyle and Britte McBride argued that would be too much work for the agency’s staff and slow down the rollout of recreational sales. They also questioned whether the agency has the authority to “interfere” with negotiations between companies and municipalities, and fretted that the commission’s only recourse would be to reject the application, punishing the applicant instead of the city or town seeking excessive payments.
Commissioner Shaleen Title forcefully argued that applicants who agreed to such deals were breaking the law just as much as the municipalities demanding the payments, and that rejecting a couple applications would quickly establish a clear standard for both parties to follow. Along with commission chairman Steve Hoffman, she’s concerned that pegging the price of local licensure too high will freeze out smaller companies that can’t afford to pay, including applicants in the commission’s economic empowerment program.
Title appeared frustrated with her colleagues’ objections, saying there was plenty of evidence of improper deals, and that the commission needs to act before its equity and inclusion programs become a meaningless “kiddy table.”
“The question is, will we throw our hands up?” Title asked.
Ultimately, the commissioners punted, asking their staff to draw up a proposal for reviewing host community agreements, including an estimate of how onerous that process would be and what standards it would set for reviewing them.