To address one of the loudest and most frequent complaints from prospective cannabis entrepreneurs, marijuana regulators want to cut the wait time for a license in half in the next budget year, the chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission told state lawmakers Monday.
The average wait time for initial license review by the Cannabis Control Commission is 121 days, and the agency told the Joint Ways and Means Committee at a budget hearing that it wants to hire additional staff to drive the average wait time down to 60 days in fiscal year 2021.
"Toward this objective, the Commission will require additional funding to support hiring, particularly within our licensing and enforcement division. This budget will enable the Commission to continue our growth and potentially add up to 34 new" full-time employee equivalent positions, CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins wrote in the agency's budget letter to the committee. "In combination with IT and operational enhancements, hiring more Investigators and Licensing Specialists will enable the Commission to process applications on a quicker timeline while also ensuring continued compliance with state law and adherence to our mission."
For the CCC to meet its goal, it will take a total fiscal year 2021 operations budget of $12.4 million, a $2.8 million increase over the fiscal 2020 funding level, CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said. The total CCC budget request, which includes the medical marijuana program and a statewide public awareness campaign, is $16.3 million.
"This is going to sound, I know, a little self-serving and I apologize of that, but if we can increase the number of licensing personnel we have, we can increase the number of licenses and we can increase the amount of tax revenue that we generate, so I believe it is a good investment," Hoffman said.
Upset with the CCC's licensing process and the pace of regulatory reviews, prospective marijuana business owners in recent months have interrupted CCC meetings and later aired their frustrations with the agency at a public hearing dedicated to hearing from "applicants who feel they don't have enough information about the status of their applications."
The funding level requested, Collins wrote to the committee, would allow the CCC to "also implement both technical changes to streamline processing and improve not only the user experience, but enhance public disclosure, and increase staffing to meet demand for licensing."
Since its inception in September 2017, the CCC has written and rewritten regulations governing the newly legal industry, and has overseen the launch of legal retail marijuana sales. To date, the CCC has licensed 246 marijuana establishments, including 72 cultivators and farmers who are growing almost 2.1 million square feet of marijuana canopy in the state, the agency said. It has also licensed more than 7,600 people to work at marijuana establishments.
Hoffman said the CCC has opened 92 marijuana establishments, including 37 retail stores. He said the additional funding for licensing and enforcement personnel is crucial because "we will have at least double that number open in the next 12 months." Hoffman said his back-of-the-envelope math puts the number of retail marijuana outlets that the state can eventually sustain at roughly 250.
In its written budget request, the CCC said it is already working to publish a queue of all pending applications so the public and the applicants can know where a particular application stands in the CCC review and approval process.
The CCC brought in $8.7 million in non-tax revenue in fiscal 2019, Collins told the committee, and "current non-tax revenue projections remain on track to exceed our original $14 million projection this fiscal year." The Department of Revenue has estimated that Massachusetts will realize between $93 million and $172 million in state marijuana tax revenue in fiscal 2020, and between $102 and $189 million in fiscal 2021.
The agency also requested $1 million to continue its public awareness campaign that seeks to inform people about the still-relatively-new marijuana laws and $2.9 million for the medical marijuana program. The total CCC budget request is $16.3 million.
There are more than 67,000 patients registered in the medical marijuana program, and the CCC oversees the operation and compliance of 58 medical marijuana treatment centers.