Marijuana advocates want Gov. Charlie Baker and others who opposed legalization to “back off” and allow the independent cannabis regulatory body to move ahead with an industry that would include marijuana cafes, delivery-only businesses and other novel business types.
Many of the same groups and people who held rallies outside the State House during the 2016 campaign to legalize adult use of marijuana returned to that spot Thursday to fire back at the Baker administration’s “coordinated intimidation campaign” and counter what has been a 10-day shelling of the Cannabis Control Commission’s draft regulations by executive agencies under the governor’s control.
“This drip, drip, drip campaign attempts to undercut the independence of the Cannabis Control Commission by reverting to the prohibitionist rhetoric that should have ended when 1.8 million Massachusetts voters endorsed adult use of cannabis in November of 2016,” Marijuana Policy Project of Massachusetts Political Director Will Luzier said. “We think the Cannabis Control Commission can chew what they’ve bitten off.”
The CCC’s draft regulations have been under fire by Baker and others who say they believe regulators are jeopardizing plans for retail marijuana businesses by pursuing an overly ambitious industry rollout. Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and others have called on the CCC to scale back the industry envisioned in its draft regulations at least until an initial retail market takes hold.
“I think the experience coming out of both Colorado and Oregon has been that this is a very tough industry to regulate straight out of the gate and people should crawl before they walk and walk before they run,” Baker said Monday.
Shanel Lindsay, a cannabis entrepreneur and industry consultant who serves on the Cannabis Advisory Board, said Thursday that if the Baker administration’s guidance is followed the marijuana industry here will be less accessible to small businesses and people from communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.
“From the moment this law was conceived, small business owners and local small business were a central focus,” she said. “But now in the 11th hour, we’re facing off against this last-ditch effort to scrap the only provisions that will provide ownership opportunity to our family and community members.”
Jim Borghesani, the spokesman for the local chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, said a phased rollout of the CCC’s proposed license categories would “block small business individuals from coming into the industry at the beginning and the question is whether they will be able to get in once a lot of it has been established.”
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a legalization supporter and frequent Baker critic, said the Legislature agreed last summer to changes to the voter law that would ensure that people in communities of color and people without large cash reserves could break into the legal marijuana industry, and that Baker’s concerns now are “absolutely contrary to the law” he signed.
“I’m extremely concerned that over the past few weeks Gov. Baker has used his different secretariat agencies to attack the Cannabis Control Commission and to suggest that somehow some of the more alternative ways to provide marijuana to those throughout Massachusetts are somehow not a good idea,” Eldridge said. “It’s important to emphasize that the law that Gov. Baker signed emphasized the need to provide economic opportunities through cannabis to communities of color and to those who are less well off.”
The governor has said that he is OK with the CCC licensing things like pot cafes and delivery services after an initial retail market has been launched and has said he does not want the launch of legal retail sales to be pushed back from the expected July 1 start date.
“The Baker-Polito Administration recognizes that many business interests are eager to fast-track marijuana enterprises in venues like movie theaters, yoga studios, and delivery services — but believes the safest and most responsible implementation of this new law begins with the establishment of regulated retail sales,” Baker spokesman Brendan Moss said in an email Thursday.
Earlier this week, CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said the governor’s comments have come at “exactly the right time” and that the CCC does not feel like the administration is exerting undue pressure on them.
“I think the process is working exactly the way it should, which is that we put our draft regulations out, we’re getting feedback and comments from elected officials, from industry groups, from advocacy groups, and we’re going to go and meet in public again,” Hoffman said. “And we’ll talk about the feedback and we’ll try to make the best judgments we can about what modifications are needed to our draft regulations before they’re finalized.”
Borghesani, who served as press secretary to Acting Gov. Jane Swift, said the Baker administration is leading “a calculated and orchestrated campaign to exert maximum public pressure on the CCC” as it attempts to set rules for the newly-legal industry.
“It should be lost on nobody that this is a political year and it should be lost on nobody that we’re seeing politics put ahead of policy,” Borghesani said. “When you have the administration putting out four letters in a matter of seven days, you’re looking at an administration that is trying to dominate the news cycle in order to influence what should be an independent commission.”
The CCC has opted not to respond directly to each submission from the administration or others, and has said that it will instead discuss all the feedback in public once the public comment period for the draft regulations ends Thursday.
The agency has scheduled meetings on Feb. 26, 27 and 28 at which commissioners will discuss the feedback to the draft regulations and debate what changes should be made before the regulations are finalized. The statutory deadline for the CCC to promulgate its regulations is March 15.