Minutes of January 17, 2019 PSNA meeting
We had an informative exploration of the work that the state and the city have done to prepare for legalized recreational marijuana and the issues that remain outstanding.
So much information was offered, and so many questions were explored in detail that these minutes represent only what I was able to catch, and I was listening primarily for how we are most likely to encounter this new industry.
Folks who attended and want to fill in any of these gaps are welcome to do so. Anyone who wants a more comprehensive view of things should consult the MCC website https://mass-cannabis-control.com/, which offers extensive information.
These officials were on the panel:
- David Lakeman, Director of Government Affairs, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
- State Senator Pat Jehlen, Chair, Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy, Massachusetts State Legislature
- Jeff Roberts, Director of Zoning and Development, City of Cambridge
- Lou Cherubino, Sergeant, Special Investigations Unit, Cambridge Police Department
FIRST, SOME CONTEXT
One striking reality is that, because of the federal drug laws, cannabis is truly a “locavore” industry. Although national companies are among the applicants for the various licenses to cultivate and sell the product, all marijuana sold and consumed legally in Massachusetts must be grown here. Surplus from a bumper crop cannot be sold to or purchased from licensed operators in other states. Thus, the price of cannabis will truly reflect the relationship between supply and demand.
Massachusetts has learned much from the states that have legalized recreational marijuana and has developed two innovative programs of its own. First is the economic empowerment program, which seeks to actively engage those communities that have suffered the disproportionate impact of federal and state enforcement of drug policy in the economic benefit this new industry offers. The program provides training, mentoring, and technical assistance to applicants from these communities to navigate the licensing process for cultivation or distribution businesses.
Second is a research program. One benefit of regulation is that the levels of THC, the active component of marijuana, will be uniform, which can support meaningful testing of the effectiveness of dosages and delivery method (e.g., joints vs brownies vs smoothies).
MEASURES OF IMPAIRMENT
The area where research is most needed, of course, is in measurements of impairment that would qualify as “under the influence.” The complication here is that there is no equivalent to the tests for alcohol and that measurable amounts of THC, like guests who try to keep the party going long after most everyone else has left, can linger in the body for as long as 30 days.
Sergeant Cherubino provided information about what law enforcement is doing to respond. The Cambridge Police Department has 3 fully trained Drug Recognition Experts who can be summoned to make such an evaluation. Police departments of some cities in the area have at least one DRE who can be summoned by Cambridge (and, of course, vice versa).
That said, such staffing is not sufficient; the Cannabis Commission recently recommended that DREs be hired in each city and town and by the state police.
WHAT IS AND IS NOT LEGAL
Where to purchase and consume this controlled substance is another issue. You can legally purchase and transport a (sealed) package of the product, but you cannot open it until you are on private property. If you had less than an ounce left and transported or consumed it on public property (for example, on the sidewalk in front of your house on your way to share the wealth with a neighbor), you’d be committing at least one and (possibly two if you were smoking the joint on the way over) civil offenses.
1. Sergeant Cherubino supplied this helpful summary of the civil and criminal offenses and penalties. Public consumption is a civil offense with a $100 fine; medical cannabis can be consumed in public except by smoking.
2. Public possession of 1–2 ounces is a civil offense with a $100 fine.
3. Public possession of more than 2 ounces is still a criminal offense; medical users can possess and transport up to 10 ounces.
4. Private possession of more than 10 ounces that is not harvested from plants grown in the primary residence is still criminal. Doctors can approve more than 10 ounces for patients; officers can check the 60-day supply limit in CJIS.
5. An open container of marijuana in a motor vehicle is a civil offence with a $500 fine.
6. OUI of marijuana is still criminal.
7. Cultivation of more than 13 plants in the primary residence is still criminal
8. Cultivation of even 1 plant at a location that his not the primary residence is still criminal.
There is no process or regulation (yet) governing public social consumption, such as creating the equivalent of a bar.
ISSUES CONCERNING RETAIL OPERATIONS
A good argument can be made that retail distribution of cannabis would generate the volume of foot traffic that ground-level retailers dream of. However, the security required just to enter the premises is such that sidewalk congestion is likely. Also, a store that provides medical and recreational cannabis must have separate entrances for each use. Separate cash register systems are also required for the purposes of taxation and inventory tracking. Thus, it is likely that these businesses would not be located at street level, but on a second floor, rear, or basement of a building.
Exactly where these locations will be determined by Cambridge zoning changes, which will come into effect in April 2019, after the City Council adds a layer that addresses the issues that support the goal of economically equitable distribution. The highlights:
1. Retail distributors must be at least 1800 feet apart and be 300 feet from schools and any area used by children, such as parks.
2. A map distributed at the meeting shows that the city has applied this rule to reflect the schools and parks that are on the borders with Arlington and Somerville. However, this rule does not apply to preschools, of which there are many on Mass Ave.
3. Companies with retail cannabis operations in other states will not be allowed in small retail areas, such as Huron Village.
LICENSING AND LOCATION OF CULTIVATORS AND DISTRIBUTORS
The MCC licensing process covers four areas: cultivation, independent test labs, retail distribution, and micro businesses. The application process requires several sections and documents pertinent to each type of license. When an applicant has submitted all required information and documents for at least one section, the application is considered to be pending.
MCC staff review submitted applications line by line and bounce them back to applicants until every item of information requested is provided. When all information is submitted, the license is considered for approval.
A noteworthy aspect of this process is that each city and town can establish the number and types of cannabis licenses it will allow; the MCC, in turn, will not process more applications for any city or town than are available. This ensures that the local jurisdiction, not the MCC, is choosing who it wants to do business in the community.
The mechanism for handling this requiring a Host Community Application signed by the jurisdiction and the applicant as part of the form. If an applicant is not approved, another applicant can submit an application. This takes the MCC out of the business of choosing which applicants operate in a community; its role is to assess whether applicants have the necessary qualifications to operate under the terms of the license in compliance with state law.
FEES AND TAXES
Successful license applicants must be prepared to pay an annual fee of up to 3% of gross revenue to cover the impact of the business on the host community. This fee can be lowered or waived by the community, to reflect its experience with the business.
Businesses are required to pay the state sales tax (6.25%) and an excise tax on marijuana and marijuana products (10.75%), which are directed to the state general fund.