The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission voted Wednesday to temporarily extend coronavirus-related policies that were due to expire at the end of the year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the agency issued several bulletins meant to reduce face-to-face interactions within the marijuana industry. The regulatory changes permitted applicants for pot licenses to conduct their required community outreach meetings virtually, authorized the curbside pickup of medical marijuana from dispensaries, and allowed patients to obtain a recommendation for a medical marijuana card through a virtual doctor’s appointment instead of an in-person visit.
The commission has periodically extended those rules as the pandemic continued — most recently in June, when it pushed their sunset date to Dec. 31. However, officials neglected to include the matter on the agenda for the agency’s routine monthly meeting earlier in December, necessitating a second session on Wednesday.
“We’re meeting today to just make sure that we don’t abruptly end these opportunities for people,” commission chair Shannon O’Brien said.
The five-member commission voted unanimously to continue the temporary policies until at least its Feb. 9 meeting, allowing staffers time to gather more data on their impact. O’Brien said commissioners would then decide whether to end the COVID allowances or make them a permanent part of the state’s cannabis regulations.
Shawn Collins, the executive director of the commission, said 22 healthcare providers had obtained waivers allowing them to issue medical marijuana recommendations virtually, while around 30 of the state’s 100 or so medical dispensaries are offering curbside pickup. Collins added that nearly half of all license applicants in the past six months had conducted their community outreach hearings with neighbors of the proposed facility using a virtual platform such as Zoom.
Some advocates and industry members are hoping the policies will stay in place, saying they make it much easier for patients with disabilities to obtain medical marijuana.
Some doctors, however, are pushing for the commission to resume requiring in-person appointments for medical cards, arguing that virtual meetings undermine a state law requiring “bonafide” relationships between providers and patients.