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This Week In Weed: Rep Mark Cusack says scrap delivery-only

CUSACK TO CCC: SCRAP DELIVERY-ONLY
The Cannabis Control Commission has a lot of people whispering in its ear as it finalizes the rules for the recreational market. But one person the agency might want to listen to especially closely is Massachusetts state representative Mark Cusack.

The Braintree Democrat co-chairs the House side of the Legislature’s joint committee on marijuana policy and was a key player in lawmakers’ rewrite of the Question 4 ballot initiative last year. He’s been watching as the commission drew up its draft regulations, and met this week with chairman Steve Hoffman and executive director Shawn Collins. (He also met separately with owners of medical marijuana dispensaries.)

Cusack told TWIW that, overall, he’s pleased with how things are shaping up at the CCC and praised the agency for sticking to the tight schedule required for recreational pot sales to start on time in July. He does, however, have a few asks.

For one, Cusack opposes home delivery of recreational pot by retailers that don’t also operate physical storefronts, a proposed rule that he says goes beyond what the Legislature envisioned.

“Our whole model was, everything happens at the point-of-sale at the dispensary,” Cusack said. “I’m incredibly concerned about [delivery-only retailers]. The law doesn’t technically preclude it, but I thought we made it clear that if there was a delivery option, it had to be from a brick-and-mortar dispensary.”

Cusack said he’s worried delivery-only outfits would crimp the overall industry by undercutting walk-in dispensaries, whose owners have invested substantial sums in their stores. He’s also concerned that the fleeting nature of a delivery transaction means novice cannabis consumers won’t get educated about how to safely use the drug.

“At a dispensary, you go in and meet someone who informs you and tries to understand what you’re looking for,” Cusack said.

His concerns, which partially echo those expressed by dispensaries in last week’s edition, are part of a raging debate over the merits of pot delivery.

Others in the business have defended delivery-only operations, saying they would give consumers more options, especially those in “dry” towns that have banned marijuana shops.

But in addition to brick-and-mortar dispensaries, delivery-only outfits could also undermine “micro-businesses,” a class of license proposed by the commission that was explicitly envisioned as a way for small entrepreneurs to get in the game. Micro-businesses could grow, process, and deliver their own marijuana to consumers under a single, lower-cost license as long as they didn’t cultivate more than 5,000 square feet of cannabis. If larger delivery businesses can provide unlimited quantities of marijuana obtained at wholesale prices, the micro-businesses might lose their competitive advantage.

Meanwhile, Cusack said that, in the other ways, the commission’s proposed rules are actually too restrictive.

One requirement, for example, says marijuana businesses must be located more than 500 feet away from any place children congregate. But the law he helped write, Cusack said, applies that buffer only to existing schools; Without a clear definition of what constitutes a place where children congregate, Cusack fears neighbors could try to exclude pot businesses from just about anywhere.

He also wants the agency to limit the number of warnings that must be printed on marijuana product packaging. Otherwise, he argued, vital information such as an edible’s potency will get lost in a sea of smallprint. An abundance of warnings may also contribute to the erroneous perception that marijuana is a dangerous poison, Cusack said.

“You don’t want people to leave the dispensary with a shoebox full of required warnings just to buy an ounce of weed,” he said. “You also don’t want to clog up the poison control hotline with people geeking out because they’re having bad high, instead of someone whose children drank bleach.”

For now, Cusack said he’ll take a “wait-and-see” approach, giving the commission a chance to make the suggested changes before finalizing its rules in March. But he left open the possibility of forcing the fixes through legislation, raising the prospect that the Legislature could be futzing with the recreational pot law even as the commission is racing to get the industry up and running by July.

“I’m not at war with them,” Cusack said. “I just want to be a resource — when it comes to legislative intent, they can ask our office.”

What do you think? Is delivery problematic? Should the Legislature buzz off and let the commission do its thing, or start rewriting its own rewrite to keep the agency from overstepping? Hit me up:
dadams@globe.com.