From the Cannabis Control Commission to municipal battles and lab testing, these topics are bubbling in the bay State right now
Though we’d hardly say these are the glory days of Massachusetts marijuana media, there is nevertheless enough industry action to keep outlets interested—from grassroots blogs and podcasts to national cannabis news sites.
And since regulators, business owners, and attentive consumers in states across the country regularly look to the Mass market for ideas and lessons learned alike, it’s common for events that unfold here to reverberate throughout and even beyond New England.
Of the countless complicated and exciting topics on the table that will likely show up in a lot of headlines this year, here are five that are already heating up …
1 – The next Cannabis Control Commission meeting on Jan. 11 should be another must-see event on a number of fronts. Whether it turns out to be combative or not, there is important business at hand, from putting finishing touches on adjustments to delivery regulations, to routine license approvals, to filling a number of empty and important positions at the growing agency.
The current-four person commission appears to have moved past its persistent bickering over who will serve as the body’s interim head while Chair Shannon O’Brien is suspended; in December, they finally voted, three to one, to keep Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion as acting chair until a new appointment comes from above. Meanwhile, O’Brien continues to fight for her job and reputation in ongoing court proceedings and an upcoming hearing with Treasurer Deb Goldberg.
2 – To answer the question everyone seems to be asking—yes, one of the next big issues that commissioners are set to address is social consumption. At this point, the leads on that project are still in a fact-finding stage. It’s a unique situation for the agency, and one of the first bridges they will have to cross where commissioners will actually know more about the topic than most onlookers, regardless of how many years of experience CCC critics have in the legacy market. Still, they’ve been actively soliciting input; the public was already given a chance to speak up at a series of open forums last year, and there will be several more official opportunities for people to voice their concerns and share ideas. Also, this Friday, Jan. 5, the CCC’s Community Advisory Board is meeting and social consumption is on the agenda.
3 – As Commissioner Kimberly Roy said at the last CCC meeting of 2023, “Testing is a focus for me.” She’s not alone. To put it simply, an enormous scandal has been building for years, with a current lack of strong enforcement around potency-measuring regulations fostering data manipulation and, as a result, demonstrable widespread consumer fraud.
Furthermore, the question of testing manipulation is germane to headline-grabbing power struggles at the CCC, where reported disagreements over how to manage the issue have come up around public agency disagreements and the suspension of Chair Shannon O’Brien. In November, the CCC itself began to address the topic, issuing a bulletin to standardize cannabis testing. Watchdogs say that was a promising but small start. On their part, many manufacturers and retailers are already scrambling to keep up with the changes, but what happens next could have even bigger consequences.
4 – Several industry stakeholders we spoke with for our “look ahead” features noted the long overdue but nevertheless welcome creation of the state’s Social Equity Trust Fund. Though technicalities and bureaucratic red tape plus good old fashioned Mass politics and bad accounting lowered the first-year funding yield from an initially expected tens of millions to within the sobering $2 million to $3 million range, it’s still very much anticipated.
As Ruben Seyde of Delivered Inc. told Talking Joints Memo, “2024 will be the year of Social Equity in Massachusetts. All the years of advocacy, heartache, blood, sweat, and tears have led to this year. SE companies are finally starting to gain traction and regulations are starting to become less costly (i.e. the major delivery regs revamp and social consumption). This, combined with the fact that the SE Trust Fund will finally be funded/open, giving unprecedented access to capital for SEs, will be a game changer for some SEs and EEs.”
5 – Meanwhile, there will be lots of noise in multiple municipalities. For starters, new Massachusetts regulations prevent cities and towns from continuing to collect abusive community impact fees via Host Community Agreements, but some aren’t ready to lose their cannabis cash cows—and the lawsuits are mounting. And since it won’t be so easy to fleece weed businesses, politicians are suddenly second-guessing how many they should allow, like in Holyoke where one city councilor is suggesting a temporary moratorium on new pot shops. Also on the town front, we will likely see disparate but similar actions across the commonwealth to ban cannabinoid derivatives used to make products that get people stoned but are sold outside of the regulated retail cannapparatus.