Grow, Gift, Repair

Rebuttal to the Massachusetts Municipal Association

As of August 22, 2018, all nineteen of the host community agreements (“HCAs”) held by provisional Cannabis Control Commission (“CCC”) licensees appear to violate M.G.L. c.94G, §3(d) and the CCC’s guidance on HCAs. See Dan Adams, “Payments for marijuana licenses appear to skirt state law,” Boston Globe, Aug. 22, 2018, available here. The statutory underpinnings of this new regulatory regime are based on the goals of promoting restorative social justice, lowering barriers to entry for folks that are not exceedingly wealthy, and preventing monopolization and consolidation by placing limits on the scale of cultivation and the number of business entities a person or corporation may own. Mr. Beckwith’s article ignores those goals and creates a false dichotomy that I hope to unravel below.

Apparently, all lobbyists are to be scorned and never to be trusted. At the outset of the article, Mr. Beckwith describes a coordinated campaign by “paid lobbyists for the billion-dollar commercial marijuana industry” and ascribes to the lobbyists a goal of marginalizing and restricting local government’s role in the process of licensing cannabis businesses. There are two major issues with this first sentence: 1) describing cannabis advocates as “paid lobbyists” is a clear attempt to suggest that people advocating for the cannabis industry cannot be trusted because they are paid to present the industry’s concerns; and 2) labeling the nascent cannabis industry a “billion-dollar” industry is disingenuous—that figure is merely a projection for future years and the adult-use industry today comes nowhere close to that lofty figure and in fact there have been zero sales to date—and again appears calculated to ascribe a measure of wealth and power that simply doesn’t exist in all corners of today’s cannabis industry. Both of these improper characterizations can only be read as an attempt to appeal to municipal officials’ role of defending their constituents’ interests against an enormous and well-funded monolith dead set on steamrolling municipal concerns. The cannabis lobbyists that I know personally—Kamani Jefferson of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council and Peter Bernard of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council—work tirelessly to make the Massachusetts cannabis industry safe, fair, and transparent for adult-use consumers and growers, respectively. Both gentlemen are by no stretch of the imagination motivated or influenced by money, as Mr. Beckwith unfairly charges.

The goal of this mischaracterization was clear to this reader: Mr. Beckwith sought to appeal to overworked and underpaid municipal officials and employees by painting a picture of well-monied cannabis entrepreneurs seeking to impose their collective will on municipalities. This attempt at othering members of the cannabis industry is a thinly veiled tactic to create an “us” versus “them” paradigm that is a disservice to municipalities, Question 4 voters, and the cannabis industry. Mr. Beckwith either intentionally ignored, or remained willfully ignorant, of the fact that the members of the cannabis industry are simply attempting to see that M.G.L. c.94G, §3(d) is enforced as its drafters intended. Perhaps Mr. Beckwith will charge that my opinion on the matter cannot be trusted because of my clientele, but take it from Senator Jehlen and Representative Cusack, the primary authors of Chapter 94G:

…[P]ursuant to §3(d) of Ch. 94G M.G.L., all marijuana establishments must have a host agreement in order to be considered compliant with said chapter—a requirement for licensure and approval by the CCC—it is our interpretation, and intent, that the CCC has the authority and is required to therefore review any such community host agreements to ensure their compliance with statute. Such review should take particular note of any agreements which include mitigation fees or contributions of any kind, ensuring they conform with the restrictions imposed by statute. This includes that such fees or contributions of any kind are ‘reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment,’ do not equal, in total, to more than ‘3 percent of gross sales of the marijuana establishment,’ and that the agreement is not effective for longer than a total of five years.

Sen. Jehlen and Rep. Cusack, Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy, letter to CCC Chairman Hoffman, July 13, 2018.

There is no nefarious campaign to marginalize or restrict municipal authority, but rather small businesses that make up the cannabis industry are merely attempting to encourage the CCC to take up its responsibility to enforce the statute as its drafters intended. Mr. Beckwith likely knew this when he wrote his article, which, using his logic, is an opinion that should not be trusted because he is paid by the Massachusetts Municipal Association. In life (and in the law), things are rarely as black and white as Mr. Beckwith has suggested.