Cannabis commissioners missing from Wednesday session were hard at work, chairman says

  • David Caputo, president of Positronic Farms in Holyoke, speaks at the Cannabis Control Commission at HCC Wednesday morning.

Friday, October 06, 2017

HOLYOKE — When the state’s Cannabis Control Commission held its first of seven initial listening sessions on Wednesday, it didn’t go without notice that only two members of the five-member body were present.

“I find it interesting that officials that have accepted six-figure jobs on the public’s dime cannot make the trip out to Holyoke to listen to the public,” Eric Schwartz, of Somerville, wrote to the Gazette.

The chairman of the commission makes more than $160,000 a year, and commissioners make more than $120,000. At least one audience member acerbically remarked on the absence of three commission members during public comments in Holyoke.

So where were the absent commissioners the public was hoping to see? Hard at work, the commission’s chairman said Thursday.

“The five of us are operating as our own staff,” Steven Hoffman, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said.

The body currently has no other help, and won’t until an executive director is hired in the coming weeks to begin staffing up, he added. So, for the listening sessions, “We thought that the most efficient thing to do is to divide and conquer.”

Hoffman said he met with legislators Wednesday to work on getting more funding for the commission, which is tasked primarily with writing regulations and devising a licensing system for the new retail marijuana industry. The Legislature has appropriated $2.3 million to initially fund the commission’s work, although some — including Hoffman — have said far more is needed to complete those duties.

There will be only two members of the commission present at all of the public listening sessions throughout the state, Hoffman said. The sessions are being recorded and transcribed for the absent members. Hoffman was unsure where the other two missing commission members — Jen Flanagan and Shaleen Title — were on Wednesday.

“But I can tell you they were working on one, or two or five of the other tasks that are on their plate,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the treasurer and receiver general, who is currently doing communications work for the commission, said Flanagan was one of the members at another listening session in Hyannis on Thursday. The Gazette was unable to reach Flanagan and Title.

“I can sympathize,” Hoffman said when asked about the negative perception around the three commissioners’ absences on Wednesday. “I hope people would understand that there is five people, no staff and a ton of work to do.”

State law requires that the commission hold a public hearing before the adoption, amendment or repeal of regulations, and spokeswoman Chandra Allard said commission members will again be taking to the road to gather public input on those rules once they are written.

State law requires the commission to write regulations by mid-March, and to begin taking license applications for establishments to sell marijuana on April 1. Retail marijuana shops are slated to open on July 1, 2018.

In addition to public listening sessions, members of the public can also submit public comment via email at cannabiscommission@state.ma.us or by mail at One Ashburton Place, Room 313 Boston MA 02108. Those comments will be subject to disclosure in response to a public records request.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.