This week is crunch time for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
The nascent agency, charged with overseeing recreational pot, has said it expects marijuana will be available for sale to adults older than 21 by July 1. But for that to happen, it must first translate the state law legalizing marijuana into the specific, step-by-step rules and policies that businesses and consumers and its own staff will follow. And it must file the first draft of those regulations by the end of the year, so there’s enough time to hold public hearings and finalize the rules by March 15, as the law requires.
So this week, the commission has scheduled a series of all-day meetings, during which its five commissioners will debate and vote on dozens of regulations. Some will be of interest mostly to those in the business — insurance requirements, for example. Others could have a big effect on consumers. Some key decisions to watch for:
Many cities and towns remain apprehensive about whether to allow marijuana businesses, such as dispensaries and cultivation facilities, within their borders. More than 100 have various restrictions on licensed companies, including bans, moratoriums, and limits on how many can open.
While some local officials are opposed to pot in general, much of their hesitance stems from confusion: How much control will a city or town have over the licensing of marijuana companies? Will an operator need a letter of support from a municipality to win a state license?
Look for the commission to offer some clarity on the role of municipalities. If it does, some cities and towns may lift their restrictions, which should make legal pot available over a wider area in Massachusetts. If they don’t, the market is likely to remain smaller in the early days.
One problem in other states with legal marijuana has been a dearth of places where it’s legal to consume the drug. This has been an issue especially in tourist-heavy areas, where out-of-towners have taken to lighting up in public (which is illegal in Massachusetts), to the annoyance of residents.
One solution could be so-called “social consumption lounges” or “cannabis clubs” — essentially, pot bars — which are allowed under the Massachusetts law.
These could also be attractive to renters whose landlords won’t let them smoke in their apartments and parents who don’t want to consume pot around their kids.
But the commission must answer questions about the licensing and management of these facilities, including how much marijuana customers will be allowed to consume, how the facilities will be ventilated, whether patrons can take home leftover marijuana, and how “budtenders” will keep patrons from leaving and driving while intoxicated.
There are also questions about whether licensed pot bars could be combined with other businesses, such as yoga studios or massage parlors.
Delivery services etc.
Some corners of the local marijuana industry have argued that the commission, in order to meet its July 1 target date, should hold off licensing all but the basics: cultivation, processing, and retail facilities.
But the law also allows the commission to issue licenses to “craft cooperatives” comprised of small home-growers, delivery and transportation services, research, education efforts (think, marijuana industry career training institutes), and one-time licenses for farmer’s markets and other events.
Keep an eye out to see if cannabis officials tackle these “extra” categories, and if so, what rules they will be subject to. There is particular debate around whether craft cooperatives should be limited in size or subjected to less stringent rules than other cultivators.
The law calls for the commission to grant expedited licensing to companies that will empower minority communities and others that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. That provision prompts questions: how to define those communities, and how much of a leg up those businesses should be granted. Should the state go so far as to provide loans to prospective business owners who lack access to capital?
This issue is a key one for progressives, for whom racial and economic equity is a big reason they supported legalizing marijuana. Other states where the drug is legal have struggled to create diverse cannabis industries.
Ads and packaging
One concern frequently raised by skeptics of legalization is that kids will get into cannabis-infused edibles. The commission must decide on requirements for labeling and packaging such products, so it’s clear they are for adults only.
Similarly, it must decide on advertising limits and ensure ads do not target minors. Currently, medical dispensaries are subject to strict requirements about signs and until recently, were not even allowed to post their prices online.Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.