Mass Stakeholders, Advocates Drop Two Hours Of Concerns, Advice On Cannabis Regulators

Focus was on equity, social consumption, delivery, and Host Community Agreements

The initial plan was for Equitable Opportunities Now, a nonprofit that “educates and empowers people of color to become active participants in the Massachusetts legal cannabis market,” to host a one-hour session in which Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioners listened to feedback. But in the week leading up to this afternoon’s virtual speakout, the amount of interest from Economic Empowerment applicants and licensees, Social Equity Program participants, entrepreneurs from disparately harmed communities, and others wanting to share their recommendations and concerns spurred the hosts to double the length of the event.

While the general gist of the two-hour session was for stakeholders to address “how we can ensure effective and equitable implementation of An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry,” many comments specifically focused on the CCC’s current work on Host Community Agreements (HCAs), social equity at the municipal level, and social consumption reforms. 

Relative to all of those hot industry topics, state Sen. Liz Miranda spoke about bills she’s sponsoring on Beacon Hill to “equitably reinvest cannabis revenue in communities harmed by the war on drugs” and “encourage equitable cannabis business ownership” (you can read EON’s letter to lawmakers about those and other proposals here).

Outside of the legislative realm, comments made to the commissioners (all were present, along with other members of the CCC team) mostly circled the following issues … 

Boosting Social Equity

EON Co-Founder Shanel Lindsay of Ardent Cannabis and the Parabola Center opened the meeting with some hard truths about the cannabis business in Mass, and how especially hard it can be for equity applicants at every stage including after licensees are up and running. “When you crunch the numbers,” she said in talking about access to capital, “if the numbers don’t work, no one is going to invest in the business.”

Lindsay advocated for “longer periods of exclusivity” for equity applicants, while wellness expert Elizabeth Auguste asked how the commission is tracking the success—or lack thereof—of its equity programs. Ross Bradshaw, the owner of New Día dispensaries who serves as the EON treasurer, noted the urgency of the situation: “We’re at a critical juncture where cannabis is more competitive, it’s more fierce, and so we need to make sure we’re supporting local equity-owned businesses now more than ever.”

Removing Barriers To Access

Ryan Dominguez, the executive director of Mass CultivatED, a nonprofit that does education around expungement and offers other services to assist those harmed by the war on drugs, brought up current “suitability requirements” that, while they have been loosened since the initial adult-use law was written, are still demonstrably prohibitive. “The biggest barrier to entry has been passing a background check to get an agent registration card,” Dominguez said.

The advocate added that “it is a shame” how there are “a number of people going through the [Mass CultivatED] program who have charges stemming from the war on drugs”—years-old gun possession convictions, for example—which prevent them from opening their own cannabis businesses. “I have a fellow who had to wait two-plus years to get their records cleared before they could enter the industry,” Dominguez said.

Establishing Social Consumption Regulations

More than half of the speakers in some way addressed the as of right now unwritten rules to govern public cannabis consumption establishments, with EON Lead Facilitator Laury Lucien of Legally Great and the CCC’s Mass Cannabis Advisory Board explaining how closely the issue is tied to the “decimation of [disproportionately impacted] communities.” Lucien also noted the importance of being able to smoke combustible products, as opposed to just being able to consume edibles on site, and advocated for “special event licenses” like the permissions breweries secure to serve on a case-by-case basis.

Kizzy Key, a co-founder of Black Cannabis Week Boston, emphasized consideration of the “many people who live in public housing and can’t smoke on their own property,” while Jeremiah MacKinnon, president and executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, urged commissioners to consider opportunities for existing businesses—spas, movie theaters, take your pick—to convert into cannabis clubs, lounges, etc.

“Please don’t slow down the rollout of social consumption under the auspices of trying to make the license type more viable,” said Grant Smith-Ellis, a cannabis reporter and patient advocate. “It’s not just about creating viable spaces commercially, it’s about creating community spaces.”

Improving Delivery Regulations

Devin Alexander, a co-founder of Rolling Releaf and the City of Newton’s first Black-owned cannabis business proprietor, brought the same message that he and others have been saying for years. An outspoken advocate for all delivery companies, Alexander pleaded with commissioners to get rid of the costly rule which makes it so that two employees have to go out on the road together.

“We don’t need a working group,” Alexander said, “you know what needs to be done. It’s way past time now. There are delivery companies that are in dire need.” He noted that commissioners have expressed willingness to address the two-driver stipulation, but have yet to actually take action.

Reforming Host Community Agreements

Unlike with social consumption, where there are barely any examples up and running—in Mass or anyplace else—to study or base new regulations on, there are several interesting precedents across the Bay State on the HCA  and community impact fee front that regulators can examine as they tweak the rules around how much municipalities can bleed weed businesses within their borders. Shekia Scott, the cannabis business manager for the Boston Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion, pointed out how last November, Boston became the first municipality in the state to stop collecting impact fees and return the money that they took in via HCAs up to that point.

Alexander of Rolling Releaf pointed to Newton, which he said has a “very straightforward process” with transparent scoring criteria that takes into consideration your Social Equity status. Nevertheless, he said “community impact fees should be done away with.” Dan Berger of Grassp Ventures brought a one-liner to hammer the point home; the perfect HCA, he argued, is a “nonexistent HCA.”

Considering Low-Hanging Fruit

Among other topics that came up, EON Co-Founder Lindsay highlighted current restrictions on discounts and advertising, while Matthew Gregg of the Sun Grown Cannabis Alliance mentioned the burden of soil and water testing, and also said that staff and growers “should be able to sample their own products from where they grow and cultivate.” It’s all important stuff that should probably be considered “low-hanging fruit,” which is what commissioners have been calling simpler potential changes, but with everything already on their plates it is unlikely that members will address these things overnight.