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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Senate passes bill to grow and diversify the inclusive cannabis sector

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Extensive marijuana legalization targeting some of the most pressing issues that activists, regulators, businesses and municipalities said is preventing Massachusetts from achieving the full potential of the 2016 legalization law, acquitted the Senate unanimously Thursday afternoon with senators touting it as an Economic Development and Racial Justice bill. .

Bill (s 2801) would put tighter restrictions and improved oversight of the host community agreements that marijuana companies are required to enter into with host communities, and make grants and loans available through a new cannabis social equity trust fund for Social Justice Commission Cannabis Control (SE) social justice participants priority applicants for the program or economic empowerment (EE), and establish a way for cities and towns to license on-site cannabis consumption establishments already licensed under CCC regulations.

“By clarifying the requirements of Host Community Agreements, making financial investments to increase social equity and allowing the full implementation of the cannabis industry by allowing social consumption licensing, I am confident that this legislation helps in the continued growth of a competitive and equitable system for the commercial marijuana industry here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodriguez said as he brought the bill to the floor.

The legislature has always maintained a laissez-faire approach to marijuana policy. Lawmakers missed their opportunities to act before voters agreed to decriminalize medical marijuana in 2012 and legalize adults in 2016, but then delayed and rewrote large parts of the 2016 ballot law that legalized marijuana. Aside from a bill passed by the House in early 2020 with similar provisions to the Senate bill, the legislature has largely sidestepped cannabis issues since 2017.

Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, who chairs the Senate Cannabis Policy Committee, said the bill, which passed through her committee unopposed, seeks to address “long-standing problems through long-established solutions.”

“If you talk to advocates, policy experts and the Cannabis Control Commission, you will find near-universal agreement. And they will tell you … that the costs of entering the industry are very high and that there is a severe lack of access to capital in the industry. It usually requires 1.5 million in liquidity. $1 million to open a new retail cannabis store or three to five million for a manufacturing facility.” She added, “So when you need that kind of cash on hand in order to get into the business, in order to get your foot in the door, it’s no surprise that despite our best intentions, the industry has remained mostly white and mostly in the hands of the already wealthy.” “.

Zhang Diaz likened the marijuana bill to other steps the Senate has taken to address racial injustice, such as passing criminal justice and police reform laws, recognizing Juneinth as a holiday, and last week’s vote to ban discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in workplaces, schools and public places.

“Addressing our racial wealth gap is the next front in this work toward the pursuit of racial justice in our nation,” she said. The Jamaica Simple Democrat added, “So we know that if we’re serious about racial justice work, we have to address this racial wealth divide. And that’s why I’m so proud that we’re taking up this bill today because this bill is the Racial Wealth Gap Bill.” .

Massachusetts was the first state in the country to require fairness and inclusion to be part of its legal framework for cannabis and was the first to launch programs specifically designed to help entrepreneurs and businesses from communities that have been disproportionately affected by decades of marijuana bans.

But in more than three years since the first legal sale here, only 6% of licenses issued to the cannabis industry have gone to SE program participants or EE priority applicants, the Joint Commission on Cannabis Policy said when it released the draft legislation. Of the more than 1,000 applications submitted to the CCC as of November, only 232 came from SE or EE applicants.

The bill would make grants and loans, including interest-free and forgivable loans, available to participants in the Commission on Cannabis Control’s Social Justice (SE) program or priority Economic Empowerment (EE) applicants through the Cannabis Social Justice Trust Fund. Each year, the fund will have 10 percent of the money in the Marijuana Regulatory Fund, where revenue brought in by state marijuana taxes, application and licensing fees and industry penalties are deposited.

For fiscal year 2021, only a 10 percent share of the cannabis tax revenue ($112.37 million) would have amounted to about $11.24 million for the trust. Rodriguez estimated that a 10 percent stake for FY 2023 would be about $18 million while Zhang Diaz forecast a range of $15 million to $18 million for FY 2023.

More than two years ago, the CCC passed regulations that paved the way for social consumption establishments where adults could buy marijuana and use it in a social setting. But the agency said the pilot program it has designed for up to 12 communities “will not be able to begin without a change in state law or the passage of legislation that will first allow cities and towns to allow social consumption in their communities.”

The Senate bill would allow communities to subscribe to allow social consumption businesses within their borders through local ordinance as well as make a necessary change for cities or towns to use the existing local referendum road to green-light marijuana cafes. The Senate rejected an amendment by minority leader Bruce Tarr that would have rescinded the decree’s option and required the decision to appear before the electors.

“Allowing this to pass through the local political process, and this decision-making through the local political process as all other town ordinances do, will provide the municipal resources needed to carry out the ballot question and avoid delays resulting from having to wait months or years until the next election cycle in some cases while maintaining accountability to the electorate.

Discussion of social consumption sites usually led to talk of road safety and senators offered a few amendments aimed at putting driving while disabled by marijuana on a par with driving while intoxicated. Most of these amendments have been withdrawn or rejected, but the Senate adopted the Tarr Amendment that would create a Special Committee on Narcotic Driving to monitor and develop technology related to reliable testing for marijuana impairment in drivers.

“While I would have liked us to take action to make some legal changes in this law, the commission created by this specific amendment lays the groundwork for us so that we can move forward and make those changes in the future on the basis of additional information and expert insight.” He cited data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in February estimating a 15.5 percent increase in road deaths in Massachusetts during the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020 from 258 to 298.

On the issue of Host Community Agreements (HCAs), the bill would direct the CCC to “review and approve Host Community Agreements” and also to “regulate and implement all Host Community Agreements.” The CCC can only approve temporary license or renewal requests if it certifies HCA compliance.

The bill would also more specifically define what can and cannot be included in contracts, and would codify a municipality’s right to waive the requirement to obtain an HCA as few have already done. By adopting an amendment from Senator John Phyllis, the bill would also require the CCC to develop an HCA model that communities can use as a template to ensure their agreements align with what the CCC will agree to.

HCAs have given businesses, potential businesses, and regulators a fit, basically since the CCC began licensing business here. Entrepreneurs, lawyers, lobbyists and regulators have cited stories of cities and towns demanding more businesses than state laws allow, for up to 3 percent of total sales. The CCC began wrestling the issue in 2018, deciding it lacked the power to intervene or deny an application based on the HCA and voted in January 2019 to formally ask the legislature to grant it that power.

The bill passed by the Senate on Thursday is potentially in the mix as lawmakers send bills to the governor’s office in the coming months; House Speaker Ron Mariano’s office has said addressing many of the same issues is a priority for it.

“If the legislation does pass, I’d like to thank the House as well for their consideration of this legislation,” CCC Chairman Stephen Hoffman said Thursday morning before the Senate debate began.

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