The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) beat its March 15 deadline to file its final regulations for Massachusetts’ marijuana market and will begin accepting marijuana business applications on April 2. It will issue its first provisionary licenses on June 1, and recreational adult-use marijuana establishments could open starting July 1.
The CCC vote was unanimous, which arrived after a six-month process that included 10 listening sessions, nearly 500 public comments, and seven public hearings to deliberate on approximately 150 policies, according to the CCC.
So what does this mean for the Tri-Town with its three towns included in the Commonwealth’s 189 municipalities that either placed a moratorium or all-out ban on pot establishments?
The final regulations, totaling 202 pages in length, include nine types of license categories: cultivator; craft marijuana cooperative; microbusiness; product manufacturer; independent testing lab; storefront retailer; third-party transporter; existing licensee transporter; and research facility.
With tremendous pressure from Governor Charlie Baker to “go slow” when it comes to issuing “social consumption” establishments, the CCC decided to hold off until February 2019 regulations that would allow so-called marijuana cafés or social-use establishments, where marijuana could be consumed on the premises, and any other “mixed-use” establishments. That means no ‘stoned yoga’ businesses or corner ‘Coffee and Cannabis’ just yet.
The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) was another group that urged the CCC to hold off issuing these types of on-site consumption licenses and “to proceed slowly with regulations and to focus initially on establishing the nascent industry before expanding categories for sale, delivery, and consumption,” states the MMA in a March 7 press release. Concerns included a possible increase in driving under the influence of marijuana, for which there is no effective means for law enforcement to determine.
The MMA supported a strong municipal role in the marijuana licensing process. It advocated for language that would require marijuana establishments to hold community outreach meetings within proposed host communities and to also complete a host community agreement with the municipality before the CCC issues the license, all of which was included in the CCC’s final regulations. Furthermore, applicants need to prove to the CCC that the proposed site meets all local ordinances and bylaws in effect at the time the application was submitted.
“We believe that local officials know their communities best, and that this section (of the regulations pertaining to municipality role) would lead to a more productive partnership between communities and marijuana establishments that respects the will of the voters while ensuring a robust municipal voice in regulating the new industry at the local level,” stated the MMA in its written testimony.
Marion Planning Board Chairman Eileen Marum agrees with the CCC’s slower approach to social and mixed-use establishments that serve marijuana products for on-site consumption, especially for public safety reasons.
“I am pleased the Cannabis Control Commissioners are proceeding with caution and are providing adequate time for public education and awareness concerning responsible marijuana use before expanding its scope allowing social consumption in cafés or restaurants,” Marum said in a follow-up. “As responsible citizens, we know the increased risk of impaired driving; social consumption establishments must have a reasonable plan to assist patrons in obtaining transportation. There is currently no reliable test for intoxication by marijuana recognized by the Massachusetts courts.”
Municipalities, however, may authorize those social consumption establishments and delivery businesses by placing a question on the ballot for the November 2018 election. They could also ban such facilities, or limit the number of them in town to 20% or more of the number of liquor stores in town.
The Mattapoisett Planning Board is holding a public hearing on April 2 to consider a total ban on recreational marijuana establishments of any kind in town, which it can do with a Town Meeting vote because Mattapoisett voters rejected the November 2016 ballot question to legalize pot. Marion and Rochester would have to pass Town Meeting and then a town-wide ballot vote in order to do so.
Marum said overall she is pleased with the final regulations.
“All components of the draft regulations were included, and I appreciate the exceptional effort of the Cannabis Control Commissioners in formulating and approving the comprehensive set of regulations with a focus on broad and equitable participation in the new marijuana market,” said Marum.
The MMA, however, is concerned that the regulations do not address several important issues for local governments, such as whether existing registered marijuana dispensaries (RMDs) can “flip” to recreational marijuana sales in a town that has enacted a ban on adult recreational use marijuana.
According to the CCC’s municipal guidance document updated this month, “Zoning bylaws or ordinances are not permitted to operate to prevent the conversion of an RMD registered no later than July 1, 2017 that is engaged in the cultivation, manufacture or sale of marijuana or marijuana products to a marijuana establishment for adult use engaged in the same type of activity.”
In other words, an RMD licensed before July 1, 2017 is grandfathered against zoning bylaws that would prevent medical RMD conversion into recreational – something that does not apply to Marion, Mattapoisett, or Rochester, where there are no existing RMDs.
Marion and Rochester voters passed that November 2016 question to legalize marijuana with almost as close a margin that voters in Mattapoisett rejected legalizing recreational marijuana, so those taking advantage of the legalization still have to know the rules the state has placed upon them as individuals.
People are still prohibited from smoking or vaping marijuana products wherever smoking tobacco is already prohibited, and you cannot consume recreational marijuana in a public place; the civil penalty is up to $100. Cities and towns are allowed to pass bylaws authorizing exceptions in certain areas for social consumption, though.
Right now as marijuana use is legal, an individual over 21 can grow up to six pot plants at home, and if there are any other 21+ adults living there, a maximum of 12 plants can be cultivated at home in a secured area out of sight from the outside. The CCC prohibits homemade pot extracts or concentrates by means of any liquid or gas, other than alcohol, that has a flashpoint below 100 degrees Fahrenheit for safety reasons.
And just like with booze, you can’t have an open container of weed products in the passenger area of your car while driving or in a public place, but that doesn’t include a trunk or glove compartment. And just like before, it’s still illegal to drive while you’re under the influence of pot.
Also, landlords can prohibit tenants from smoking legalized pot inside your apartment; having said that, they cannot stop you from consuming other marijuana products that aren’t inhaled, unless you live in housing owned by the state, a subdivision of the state, or a state or local agency.
If you were to violate any of the personal use laws, you could face fines ranging from $100 to $500 and possible mandatory participation in a drug awareness program. And if you were to intentionally give marijuana to someone under 21, you could be fined $2,000 and go to jail for a year.
Those age 21+ in the Tri-Town who are potential patrons of future recreational marijuana aren’t yet sure just how far they will have to drive to buy it. Since the existing RMDs applying for conversion for recreational marijuana sales have an advantage with existing facilities and crop cultivation, those first pot shops could likely be one of the existing 22 RMDs.
To address concerns about dwindling availability of medical marijuana to patients, the CCC mandates that medical RMDs wishing to co-operate with recreational pot sales would be required to set aside 35% of its product for medical use, or the six-month average of medical sales, which is the first legislation of its kind amongst states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
The closest RMDs to the Tri-Town are Fairhaven, Plymouth, Bridgewater, and Brockton, and in 2018 Dartmouth and Taunton.