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We asked Massachusetts’ 5 marijuana regulators about the first year of pot sales. Here’s what they said

A man testified before the Cannabis Control Commission in August.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

For the one-year anniversary of recreational marijuana sales starting in Massachusetts, we asked the state’s cannabis control commissioners to reflect on the industry’s beginnings and what the future holds. Responses have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Chairman Steven Hoffman

Chairman Steven Hoffman.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

How do you feel about the first year of recreational marijuana sales?

“The top-level answer is, I’m proud and pleased of where we are. It’s been a relatively smooth rollout . . . I think that the industry and consumers have been participating in what I think is a pretty effective rollout.”

“That being said, we have a ton of work left to do.”

What are the most important things that still need to be addressed over the next year?


“One is obviously equity and diversity in the industry. . . . I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken so far [for economic empowerment and social equity applicants]. As we pull up the statistics, we know we have a long way to go.”

“We [also] still have work to do in terms of enabling licensees to get a full range of financial services — not just banking, but accounting and legal services are often a challenge because of federal prohibition.”

“Third is straightening out the host community agreement process. We’ve asked for legislative help to clarify our authority over those. It’s an important issue to get resolved. I think the process has some flaws in terms of being an impediment, especially to some smaller businesses and social equity applicants.”

What would you say to consumers who are frustrated by the slow pace of the rollout and the relative dearth of retail stores, especially near Boston?

“My first response is, I understand your frustration and respect your point of view. We committed from Day 1 to do this in a deliberate manner and take a medium-term perspective. We want the industry to work for all the citizens of the state of Massachusetts.”


“Then, maybe not quite as frequently, but I also hear from people who think we’re going too fast. . . . It’s a balancing act. We’ve used our best judgment to get the balance right.”

Commissioner Kay Doyle

Commissioner Kay Doyle.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

How do you feel about the first year of recreational marijuana sales?

“Considering the obstacles we had to overcome, this has actually gone very well.

“I would like to see more small businesses making it through the process in the future, especially outdoor cultivators, and of course I’m always looking forward to progress on the energy and environmental front. If we want to be realistic about the two big stories going on here, of climate change and cannabis legalization, you have to consider them together.

“When you’re in Massachusetts and indoor cultivation is likely to be the most common form of cultivation here, we have to make sure it’s done in a way that doesn’t disrupt our climate change goals.”

How is Massachusetts’ cannabis industry doing on the environmental front?

“We put in place in the 2019 [regulatory] amendments another pathway to help applicants and licensees make the most use of their available opportunities to do their grows and their product-manufacturing in an energy-efficient way.

“So not only do they have the methodology of meeting the 36-watt goal, but they now have a list of equipment, provided by the DesignLights Consortium, that will help them obtain energy-efficient equipment to achieve their goals. And then, on licensing renewal, they have the availability of the cannabis power score, which will allow them to input information about their water, energy, and other environmental factors, and figure out how efficient their grow is. . . .


“Those measures are key.”

Do you have any regrets about the past year?

“I would again like to see more small businesses coming into play. Part of the reason to have adult-use marijuana in the state is to provide new business opportunities for Massachusetts residents and particularly those coming from communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, which thus far tend to be smaller businesses. I’d really like to see them get through the process and get up and running.”

Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan

Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan.Cannabis Control Commission

How do you feel the first year of recreational marijuana sales has gone?

“Honestly, we’ve done a good job in our first year. Certainly, when you’re trying to legalize and regulate a new industry in Massachusetts while at the same time standing up the agency to do that, there’s certainly a lot of balls in the air that you’re trying to juggle.”

“There’s been a great effort that’s been made to not just to regulate this industry but also to have input from the general public.”

What are you not happy with?

“I don’t know if it’s that I’m not happy, but one of the obstacles that we have in the commission is that we don’t have the necessary data to support each and every piece of our research agenda.


“Given where we are and how we got here — through the ballot question process, through a quick turnaround in the Legislature — I don’t think the data has caught up. While I’m appreciative to the Legislature for having bills in their committees that address this, it’s imperative to have additional data available so that we can do the necessary research analysis pre- and post-legalization.”

Some doctors have criticized the state’s regulations as lacking sufficient limits on marijuana products’ ingredients, potency levels, and types of products. How do you respond to those concerns?

“We had five people in five cubicles and no staff and we had to get the regulations done by Christmas. . . . What we had to go on was information that we learned from other states and what we knew from our research that we had done in a relatively short amount of time.”

“I’ve said that we need to look at potency.”

“I don’t think the public health side of this has gotten a lot of attention, especially early on. It was about legalization, it was about fulfilling the wills of the voters getting dispensaries open, making sure people were able to have access. I think now, given the fact that we have a multitude of stores that are open, that we are able to go back and have some of those conversations that maybe weren’t as in depth as I would’ve liked previously.”

“But that’s not to say health is not on the forefront of my mind or the conversations that I bring up in the meetings.”


Commissioner Britte McBride

Commissioner Britte McBride.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

How do you feel about the first year of recreational marijuana sales?

“The pieces that have gone well, [that] I’m really proud of, are sort of boring. We’ve largely standardized our licensing process at the commission level. If you’re an applicant and you are paying attention to our meetings, you see the issues we talk about. You can see the level of detail that we’re looking for, and that’s a positive because I’m proud of the standard we’ve set in our regulations.”

Law enforcement says the illicit market is still thriving. What’s your response to that? Is the slow pace of licensing to blame for this?

“The pace that we have moved at is exactly the right pace. As we are opening stores in a consistent way and on a consistent basis, that access is increasing, and I think that we’re also bringing into the mix things like legal delivery operations, which will compete with the illicit delivery operations that currently exist in the open.”

“People will decide whether they want to purchase a regulated, tested product, something we are able to offer a level of safety around and certainty around, or whether they want to continue to go out and purchase on the illicit market and potentially not have a safe product available to them.”

You’ve supported Governor Charlie Baker’s impaired-driving bill that some critics say could wrongfully punish innocent cannabis consumers. What do you say to those consumers? Why is this legislation needed?

“We do a really good job of making it taboo for people to drive under the influence of alcohol, and unfortunately, the information that we get from surveys is that it is not really as much of a stigma to drive under the influence of drugs, including marijuana. So that’s concerning to me.

“The bill tries to address concerns by putting into place the ability to collect evidence that is relevant and that then can be used [to] first and most importantly make the roads safer by identifying people who are operating unsafely and removing them from the roads, and then as a secondary matter, holding people accountable when they make irresponsible decisions. Critically important in that is that it hopefully will deter that activity at the outset.

“I’m going to continue to be concerned about drugged driving and operating under the influence. We have the ability to make some changes that signal that we are taking this issue seriously, and those changes are overdue. You have choices to make responsible decisions, and I hope that people exercise those choices.”

Commissioner Shaleen Title

Commissioner Shaleen Title.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

How do you feel about the first year of recreational marijuana sales?

“I’m less concerned with, ‘Have we granted 200 licenses or 220 licenses?’ and more concerned with us being the first commission and what kind of precedents we’re setting and what kind of culture we’re creating.”

“As I look at the one-year anniversary, I want to make sure that we’re transparent, that we’re sharing the data and lessons we’ve learned, and that the people affected by our policies continue to stay engaged, that they feel heard, that they see the impact their feedback is making.”

What do you see as the key goals of legalization, and how close is Massachusetts to meeting them?

“The central goal of legalization is to move from an illicit to a regulated market. Beyond that, the commission of course has a mandate to honor the will of the voters, and that includes making an industry that has room for small and large businesses, and including people disproportionately harmed by prohibition. That’s been a primary focus of ours and continues to be.”

“I’m feeling pretty optimistic at our process of listening to the challenges and then directly addressing those individual challenges.”

“As tempting as it might be to hope for one sweeping change we can make that’s going to address 100 years of a prohibition policy that was created to advance [a] racist agenda, there is no one sweeping change we can make.”

Is there anything you would have done differently?

“It’s hard to think of what we could have done differently. Right now, we’re starting to see — especially with Boston and other cities, too — cities and towns are moving past the initial fear of the unknown and trying to have policies to address that fear. Now they’re moving onto questions like, ‘Who’s running these companies? Who’s making decisions? What are [the] long-term plans of these companies?’ ”

“I’m not sure there’s any way we could have rushed that process; even if I had gone and specifically inserted myself into a city or town’s process, you can’t force away fear.”

“Some time had to pass and the earliest dispensaries had to open for [local officials] to see that people’s fears about what would happen on the street or to property values or crime” were unfounded. “People kind of had to see that for themselves.”

“Now we see stigma lessening, and I’m not sure if we could have forced that to happen more quickly.”

What is the biggest challenge you see moving forward?

“I think the real public health threat is having companies that are so powerful that they are set up for the same kind of reckless behavior that we’ve seen from companies in other industries. We need to be united in making sure we prevent that damage. I’m thinking about the way the tobacco industry has marketed to youth, and the way a lot of different pharmaceutical drug companies have been trying to get more people using younger or at higher rates, [lobbying for] deregulation, and then blaming users who have problems. All these reckless behaviors will be there down the line, and as the stigma lessens it will only be more of a threat.”

Naomi Martin can be reached at naomi.martin@globe.com. Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com.