Metro

AG Healey, legislators pile on cannabis commission

Marijuana plants are displayed at the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Berkeley, Calif. Berkeley has declared itself a sanctuary city for marijuana users, a largely symbolic move that cements a policy prohibiting city employees from assisting federal officials in the enforcement of federal marijuana laws. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Political pressure on the state Cannabis Control Commission intensified Thursday, as Attorney General Maura Healey and 78 state legislators joined Governor Charlie Baker in pressing the independent agency to roll out a more limited recreational marijuana industry this summer.

In letters sent at the close of a public comment period on the commission’s draft rules for pot companies, Healey and the lawmakers urged cannabis regulators to delay their provisional plans to license marijuana cafés, delivery services that don’t also operate a physical storefront, and “mixed-use” businesses such as art galleries and theaters that want to sell cannabis on the side.

Healey argued in her letter that the commission already faces a “monumental task” as it prepares to oversee retail marijuana shops and their suppliers. The agency should wait to tackle the additional licenses until the basics are in place, she said, adding that pot sales in such venues pose “complex regulatory and enforcement considerations that can only benefit from gained experience.”

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The attorney general is particularly worried that allowing marijuana to be sold at “mixed-use” shops would make it possible for under-age patrons and employees to get their hands on the drug. Meanwhile, she said, marijuana cafés “encourage the consumption of marijuana outside the home,” and could cause an increase in stoned drivers that police would struggle to contain in the absence of a roadside pot-impairment test. Finally, Healey wrote, pot delivery vans could make attractive targets for criminals, and could allow for sales to minors out of the eyeshot of cameras.

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“While there may be a time to consider the introduction of” the other licenses, Healey concluded, “we believe it should not be in the initial months of implementation.”

The letter from lawmakers echoed those concerns — and those expressed in a series of letters by Baker’s administration — arguing that the controversial licenses should be delayed “until it is clearly illustrated that the initial retail marketplace has been successfully implemented.”

The state’s top two legislators, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Harriette L. Chandler, did not sign the letter, but other legislative leaders did, including House majority leader Ronald Mariano. Chandler said in a statement Thursday that she supports a “measured” roll-out of recreational pot sales, while DeLeo suggested earlier this week that he did not favor a legislative intervention.

Marijuana advocates have launched a counter-campaign, accusing the political leaders — most of whom opposed legalization — of interfering with the commission’s independence. They also argue that delaying licensure of businesses that are more affordable to start up would hurt would-be small-business owners and minority communities that suffered disproportionately high arrest rates for drug crimes.

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“This is further evidence of a coordinated, calculated intimidation campaign against the Cannabis Control Commission, using near carbon-copy rhetoric,” said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the Massachusetts branch of the Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored the marijuana ballot initiative.

Despite her concerns, Healey praised the panel for working quickly since its top officials were named in September.

She also said other license categories proposed by the panel would allow all to participate: “microbusinesses” that could grow modest quantities of marijuana and deliver it to consumers’ homes, and collectives of small-scale cannabis farmers that would sell their cannabis through retailers.

Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.