The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission on Thursday agreed to a host of regulatory changes aimed at aiding small businesses.
The changes were made as part of the commission’s ongoing process to update the regulations overseeing the recreational and medical marijuana market. The final version of the regulations will likely be voted on in their entirety within two weeks.
Many of the changes stemmed from public hearings commissioners held on the regulations, filled with teary-eyed testimony of those saying they were struggling to succeed within the commission’s onerous requirements.
“I was really touched by the feedback,” Steven Hoffman, who chairs the five-member commission, said. “It was passionate and people were at their edge. I wouldn’t say it’s something we realized for the first time during those public hearings. It’s something we’ve been aware of…I think we’ve done a lot of things and need to do a lot more.”
The changes included commissioners solidifying licenses for marijuana transportation and social consumption establishments, license types with lower capital requirements and therefore easier for small businesses to pursue. To boost diversity within the industry, the licenses for both cannabis cafes and delivery of cannabis will be exclusively available to certain groups.
Social consumption licenses will be limited to economic empowerment and social equity applicants — two groups certified by the state as being from areas disproportionately harmed by the U.S. war on drugs. Commissioners also will allow microbusinesses — small cultivation and processing licenses — and business partnerships known as craft marijuana cooperatives to access to social consumption licenses.
Delivery licenses will also be exclusively provided to economic empowerment and social equity applicants. But commissioners decided to allow microbusinesses that were economic empowerment and social equity applicants to apply for a “delivery endorsement” license.
Commissioners previously discussed providing exclusivity for both social consumption and delivery licenses for two years with a possible extension. On Thursday, they went a step further, clarifying that an extension would be for another year.
The start of the exclusivity period was also clarified, and will begin when the first license in each category receives notice from the state to commence operations. Commissioner Shaleen Title said it was critical the clock not start on applicants while they were still moving through the state’s lengthy approvals process.
“The theme of the changes made today are assisting and supporting small businesses,” Title said. “That was already a mission and mandate but when we heard the public comment, it was clear a lot of these small businesses are struggling … I think we came through today to address those barriers.”
Commissioners said they were aware that it would still be months until cannabis cafes and delivery licenses were up and running. Not only will the regulations need final passage from the secretary of state, but applicants will have to receive local approval before they can submit applications to the state.
But the commission sought to fix that roadblock as well, with Commissioner Kay Doyle proposing that the state grant priority to a larger class of people once they’ve submitted a completed application.
In addition to priority review already ongoing for certified medical marijuana dispensaries and economic empowerment applicants, Doyle suggested expedited review for social equity applicants, outdoor cultivators, craft cooperatives, microbusinesses and independent testing labs. Title further suggested extending the priority review to minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses. Priority would last until Dec. 31, 2020.
“This is a laudable attempt to get us further along and appreciate all of the issues we’re dealing with to do this efficiently and well,” said Commissioner Britte McBride.
The focus on small businesses was coupled with a variety of other changes, which included:
Use of body cameras on delivery. Despite outcry about the use of recorded video at all, commissioners voted for video to be maintained for a minimum of 30 days — instead of the initially proposed 90 days — or for the duration of an investigation by the commission. The footage will be accessible by the commission and law enforcement only if the commission decides the information is relevant to an ongoing investigation.
Expansion of towns where delivery can take place. Despite an initial effort to allow delivery by default, commissioners ultimately decided to allow delivery in towns where retail licenses are allowed, and in towns that decide to “opt in” through the passage of a bylaw or ordinance.
Requirements that cannabis concentrates or extracts include the amount of any specific additives infused or incorporated during the manufacturing process. The requirement comes after several illnesses were reported in a number of other states likely from vape products containing undisclosed compounds.
A six-month extension to the original Jan. 1, 2020 deadline for cultivators to comply with energy requirements, if they agree to environmental metering and reporting.