Marijuana advocates in Mass. say Gov. Charlie Baker is putting extraordinary pressure on the Cannabis Control Commission to force them to step back from some of their draft regulations.
The commission is proposing, in addition to cannabis retail stores, the licensing of businesses where customers could purchase and consume marijuana products. Baker’s call to “go slow” comes as the commission is set to finalize those regulations.
The commission surprised many late last year when they adopted proposed regulations that went beyond simply allowing retail cannabis stores to open. The prospects of “cannabis cafes,” “marijuana movie theaters” and “stoned yoga classes” were welcomed by cannabis advocates.
“This is a whole new opportunity, I think, for small entrepreneurs, businesses to come in and for a lot of revenue to be generated for the state — as well as for all the players involved,” Michael Latulippe, the co-founder and director of the Cannabis Society of Massachusetts, said shortly after the commission approved the policy in December.
But as the commission gets ready to finalize its regulations, the Baker administration and other state officials are doubling down on their efforts to slow things down.
“People should crawl before they walk and walk before they run,” Baker said.
He told reporters earlier this week that everyone wants to see the market for legal recreational marijuana get off to a good start in the state, but he has some reservations.
“What I do worry about is creating a situation and a dynamic — given the relatively early stages for the commission generally and for this industry in particular — to get off on the wrong foot straight out of the gate,” Baker said. “I do think it is important that this go well from the beginning.”
Baker publicly opposed the referendum that legalized adult use marijuana in 2016, but he cites honoring the will of the people in supporting the launch of the new industry.
Still, he says he’s concerned that some of the proposed regulations go beyond what he calls the first step, which would be the licensing of retail dispensaries. He also worries that the commission, which has yet to set up its enforcement arm, will not be able to adequately police the cannabis businesses right away.
Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey echoed the governor’s concerns.
“It’s important with this new industry that we get it right and that we take the time to get it right, and do it in a way that ensures that this gets off to an effective implementation,” said Healey, who also opposed the 2016 referendum.
She cautioned in a letter to the Cannabis Control Commission that the rollout of the new industry need not happen all at once.
Backers of the referendum that legalized marijuana, like Jim Borghesani, are critical of the pushback, calling it an orchestrated political campaign.
“I think it’s playing to fears, and it’s using scare tactics to increase those fears during a political campaign,” Borghesani said.
The commission just wrapped up several days of public hearings. Steve Hoffman, the commission’s chair, says the process of developing the regulations is working just the way he’d hoped.
“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 as we did in December,” Hoffman said.
He added that the commission will meet in the second half of this month to discuss that feedback and determine whether the draft regulations should be modified.
“I certainly have enormous respect for the governor and take his comments very seriously,” Hoffman said.
The commission can choose to amend it the regulations or keep them as they are. It could opt to keep the various classes of licenses, including social consumption and delivery services, but delay issuance of such licenses until a later date.
Whatever the commission decides, its regulations must be finalized and published by March 15, with the first licensed retail stores expected to open July 1.