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Cannabis regulators seek big budget increase

Members of the Cannabis Control Commission have voted to approve a fiscal year 2024 budget request of more than $23.7 million, including 26 new hires and $1.5 million to fund public awareness campaigns called for in this summer’s cannabis industry reform law.

Fiscal 2024 does not start until July 1, 2023, but state departments and agencies have to get their budget wish-lists in with enough time for the executive branch to consider them before it kicks off the budget process early next year. Because of the transition to a new governor, Governor-elect Maura Healey’s first budget will be due to the Legislature by March 1.

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The CCC’s budget request, as approved unanimously Thursday, seeks $18.5 million for the main agency operations line item, $3.7 million for the medical marijuana program, and $1.5 million for public education campaigns. That would represent an increase of $4.5 million or 23.4 percent over the CCC’s fiscal year 2023 budget award. Agency officials said some of the increase is meant to help the CCC implement the state’s new cannabis equity law.

“The general focus was on implementation of revised statute and regulations as well as enhanced support structures in response to these regulatory changes to make sure that we’re keeping up with our capacity to meet these requirements,” chief financial and accounting officer Adriana Leon said.

The CCC got a budget of $19.22 million for fiscal 2023 and its financial team determined that simply maintaining the spending, contracts and staffing from the current year would require a budget of $20.34 million. If CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins had accepted every budget request from his department heads, the CCC’s budget ask would have been $26.2 million.

The public education line item was not funded in the CCC’s fiscal 2023 budget, but the Legislature added to the agency’s public education mandate in the August cannabis law by requiring “a campaign to educate the public on health risks associated with marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol consumption, including, but not limited to, the risks: (A) to mental health; (B) of use during pregnancy; (C) of use of high potency products; and (D) of home extraction of marijuana concentrates.”

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“I think it’s important to note that even though we have not been funded in the past, the new law obviously, as a reminder, put some stipulations and requirements on the commission to undertake public awareness efforts. So hopefully they will support us for that request,” Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said.

The CCC also wants to have a detailed discussion in the new year about whether it should continue with pandemic-era policy allowances like allowing new medical marijuana patients to join the program without meeting a doctor in person, but first commissioners could extend them one more time.