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Cannabis Control Commission to weigh new industry rules

A sales associate (right) helped a customer at Canna Provisions, in Holyoke, Mass., May 21, 2021.Jessica Hill/NYT

A swath of regulatory changes is coming to Massachusetts’ cannabis industry, including measures to clear the way for people with past criminal records to work in marijuana shops and to allow all cities and towns to eventually host cannabis cafes.

In late July, the Cannabis Control Commission unanimously approved draft regulations intended to reflect the cannabis industry reform law former governor Charlie Baker signed last summer. The commission has spent the last few months re-writing the regulations that have been in place since legal marijuana sales started in 2018.

The changes seek to increase diversity in the field, ramp up oversight on agreements between marijuana businesses and municipalities — a chronic trouble spot for the young industry — and move closer to social pot consumption sites.


“We can protect the health and safety of our citizens while reducing ... overly cumbersome and costly regulatory burdens, which help more businesses achieve and maintain profitability,” Chairwoman Shannon O’Brien said.

The commission is planning a public hearing for Sept. 8 to accept public comments on the proposals in the draft regulations.

In accordance with the new cannabis law, the regulations will eliminate previously existing disqualifiers that prevented people with certain criminal charges on their records from being hired into the industry.

Marijuana establishments can still consider criminal offenses that involve the distribution of a controlled substance to a minor, including cannabis, or if they are hiring someone applying to work in a lab, the commission’s enforcement counsel Rebecca Lopez said at a July 28 meeting.

The change is intended to help move people who are selling pot illegally into the legal market, Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion said during a presentation to fellow commissioners.

“It’s important to remove unnecessary suitability requirement barriers and allow people with criminal records to work for three key reasons,” she said. “Employment has been proven to be one of the most effective tools for successful reintegration and reducing recidivism rates. By providing individuals with the opportunity to secure stable employment, we empower them to become productive members of society, which significantly lowers the chances of them returning to a life of crime.”


Concepcion continued, “Second, moving the legacy market to the legal market. Employment acts as a deterrent to criminal behavior. By encouraging individuals with criminal records to find employment in the cannabis industry, we then provide them with an alternative and lawful means to provide for themselves and reduce the likelihood of them resorting to engaging in the legacy, or illicit, market to meet their basic needs.”

Concepcion added that opening the hiring pool for those with prior criminal records helps employers by providing “access to talent that brings new ideas and expertise from the legacy market.”

The rewritten regulations also bulk up the commission with new authority to examine and approve host community agreements, which marijuana businesses are required to enter into with the cities and towns where they do business.

Under the 2022 reform law, these host community agreements will only be permitted for the first eight years a marijuana company is in business. “Community impact fees” that businesses pay to the city or town will not be allowed to surpass 3 percent of an establishment’s gross sales, and the fee amount must be “reasonably related” to costs the municipality faces as a result of the marijuana business’s operation.


The draft regulations give the commission the authority to issue sanctions against a host community that is noncompliant with the requirements of their agreement, hold off on considering new license applications from that community, or publish a list of municipalities that are out of compliance.

Seeking to apply greater oversight of community impact fees, the commission approved a draft change that would require municipalities to include specific details on how the fees were spent, including line items for the cost and purpose of each good or service.

The proposals would also prohibit a town from requiring a business to make upfront payments as a condition for operating in the community and from obligating a business to set aside money in an escrow, bond, or other account for the host community’s use.