Legislative meetings, host community agreements on pot regulators’ minds

AP File Photo/Marina Riker

AP File Photo/Marina Riker AP File Photo/Marina Riker

By COLIN A. YOUNG

State House News Service

Published: 02-13-2024 3:54 PM

From lawmakers to business operators to municipal officials, there’s been a lot of interest lately in the work underway at the Cannabis Control Commission.

Most of the headlines involving the agency have been about the months-long legal saga between suspended Chair Shannon O’Brien and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, an issue that acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion said has “taken a lot away from what we’re actually doing at the CCC.” During a commission meeting last week, Concepcion and the three other commissioners gave updates on exactly what they’ve been up to and what they expect to come before them in the coming weeks and months.

“I wanted to convey to my fellow commissioners that people at the State House are seeing the work that we’re doing. There was a lot of just, ‘Keep up the good work,’ keep up, you know, the commitment to our jobs. Commissioner [Bruce] Stebbins, you said at the beginning of the year, ‘Do your job, do your job.’ And it’s just that, that’s what we’re doing,” Concepcion said last week. She added, “I think that it goes without saying that each one of us are really just out there committed to the overall mission of the Cannabis Control Commission.”

Concepcion, who has served as acting chair since September, said she, acting Executive Director Debbie Hilton-Creek and another CCC official recently met with Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues. She said the Senate budget chief had “positive words” for the agency.

The second part of the trip to the State House included a meeting with the co-chairs of the Cannabis Policy Committee, Rep. Daniel Donahue and Sen. Adam Gomez. That committee is still weighing a bill (S 58) that would create a new internal audit unit at the CCC, similar to ones at MassDOT, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the State Police. The Cannabis Policy Committee held a hearing on the bill in July and is seeking to extend its deadline for making a decision on it until June 1.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has been pushing for that bill, saying their “constituents, media reports, and even the actions and words of the CCC itself have repeatedly made clear that action is desperately needed to bring oversight, transparency and accountability to the CCC.”

Concepcion also stopped by last month’s annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, where she said she encountered “a lot of questions about what we’re doing here at the Cannabis Control Commission, particularly around Chapter 180 [and] the changes around host community agreements.”

A 2022 cannabis industry reform law, known as Chapter 180, sought to increase diversity in the cannabis industry, move closer to social pot consumption sites, and ramp up long-sought oversight on the host community agreements between marijuana businesses and municipalities — a chronic trouble spot for the legal industry. The CCC spent much of the last year re-writing the regulations that had been in place since legal marijuana sales started in 2018 to reflect the new law.

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Stebbins also said he recently fielded questions about host community agreements and the changes included in the 2022 law, including at a recent roundtable hosted by the Cannabis Business Association in Turners Falls.

“HCA reform was a top topic again. We were joined at the meeting by the owner of Caroline’s Cannabis ... and there was certainly strong acknowledgement about the recent judicial decision with respect to their host community impact fees,” Stebbins said, referring to an agreement under which Uxbridge is set to pay back $1.17 million in host community agreement fees to the retailer. “Again, I strongly encourage licensees to weigh in and offer their thoughts on the draft model HCA. Questions about what the CCC would consider allowable impacts, I stress that this is likely to vary by licensee and host community, and I expect we will build a body of work around the topic. Our hope is that a host community and the licensee can build out a strong relationship.”

The CCC last month published a draft model HCA that it sought public feedback on. That document is expected to come back before the CCC later this month, when Concepcion said the agency will hold a meeting to discuss the feedback and the guidance that will accompany the model HCA once it is approved. The CCC plans to begin enforcing the new HCA regulations starting March 1.

She also said the February meeting will include “a conversation around the sale of non-marijuana products in licensed establishments, particularly around the topic of Lottery ticket sales.” As other forms of gambling like casinos and sports betting have taken hold here in the last decade, the Massachusetts Lottery has sought to expand its customer base, particularly among younger people.

Commissioner Nurys Camargo said she has been busy working with the CCC’s legal team to edit the regulations for cannabis delivery companies. She said she hoped to have a more thorough update on that process in March. Camargo also highlighted that the state’s new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund is now taking applications, with $2.3 million available to help qualified business licensees with urgent financial needs.

“That’s a big deal. I think all of us here at the commission — former commissioners and current commissioners, and everyone who’s been a commissioner — has been fighting for that Social Equity Trust Fund,” she said. “So that’s a big deal. I’m hoping that folks apply and something will come out of that.”

And Commissioner Kimberly Roy used her update time to recognize the CCC’s announcement last week that the legal industry here did $140.1 million in non-medical sales in December, topping August 2023 as the highest-volume month on record. December capped off a record-setting 2023 for the legal cannabis industry; the CCC said its retailers set a new annual gross sales record at more than $1.56 billion, up 5% over 2022.

“It’s also important to recognize not only our retailers, but the entire supply chain, which makes it possible to get to 1.5 billion [dollars] — from our cultivators to our product manufacturers and to our independent testing labs,” she said. “So I want to just recognize this important achievement and also recognize our retailers as well as the entire supply chain and our staff, which helps make all of this possible.”