Cannabis panel hears range of comments on draft rules

  • Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman listens during a public hearing, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 at Holyoke Community College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman talks with Ananda Lennox, of Leeds, left, and Heather Warren, of Florence, after a public hearing, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 at Holyoke Community College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton lawyer Dick Evans, left, talks with Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman after a public hearing Monday at Holyoke Community College. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bill St. Croix, who is a livestock farmer in Ware, speaks during a public hearing held by the Cannabis Control Commission, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 at Holyoke Community College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Karima Rizk, who hopes to open a cannabis cafe in Easthampton, speaks during a public hearing held by the Cannabis Control Commission, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 at Holyoke Community College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 2/5/2018 9:50:45 PM

HOLYOKE — From getting marijuana growers licensed quickly to shielding children from drug-peddling businesses, speakers had plenty of suggestions Monday for the state agency tasked with crafting regulations for the legal pot industry.

The listening session at Holyoke Community College on draft regulations released last year is one of 10 being held across the state in February. It came just over a month before the Cannabis Control Commission faces a deadline to finalize the state’s marijuana regulations. The commission is also accepting public comment on the draft regulations via mail and email until Feb. 15.

Among the speakers to address commission Chairman Steven Hoffman and member Kay Doyle were youth health advocates, farmers, business owners, hopeful entrepreneurs, public officials, legalization activists, lawyers and community members. Some took issue with specific regulations. Some called for stricter regulation, while others cautioned against just that.

“We’re getting some very interesting and well thought-out comments,” Doyle told the Gazette. That input will influence the commission’s final regulations due on March 15 before license applications become available at the beginning of April and retail sales begin on July 1.

“It may be a little difficult,” Doyle said of the tight deadlines. “But difficult is worth it.”

Some of those very deadlines were subject to criticism during Monday’s hearing, though.

Several speakers from the agricultural sector pleaded for the commission to begin licensing cultivators more quickly to allow them to begin the lengthy process of actually growing the marijuana that will supply the state’s stores. Failing to do so, they said, would create a shortage of product this summer.

“I think that the commission should focus almost exclusively on processing cultivator applications the first two to four weeks to get some people in the system,” said Holyoke’s David Caputo, whose company, Positronic Farms, is converting a paper mill building into an indoor cultivation facility. “Without cultivators, there’s nothing to see in the stores.”

Other cultivators expressed concerns over a regulation that limits craft marijuana cultivator cooperatives to only six sites per co-op. They also said the regulation’s definition of a cooperative is too broad.

“What I think that does is opens up pretty much a loophole for a less scrupulous business to come in and create a juggernaut business,” Bill St. Croix, a Ware farmer, told the Gazette.

That could undercut local farmers and community members who should actually be allowed to form cooperatives, he said, in favor of large companies less focused on their local environmental impact, renewable practices or labor standards.

Craft cultivation and its licensing is of particular interest in Amherst, Select Board member Connie Kruger said. She said the town is looking for more specific guidance in understanding the scope of its authority on issues like local licensing.

State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, urged that a focus be placed on businesses having ties with local communities — whether they will hire locals, for example, or how the commission will make sure that those affected by the past criminalization of marijuana can have access to those jobs.

“Really look at how they’re going to partner with those local communities,” he said.

Public health advocates, as well as those with concerns about youth drug use, were a notable presence at the hearings.

Heather Warner of the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth Coalition, or SPIFFY, had several concrete proposals based on the draft regulations. One was to include language authorizing local police and health boards to conduct compliance checks and issue penalties for marijuana businesses selling to minors.

In the current regulations, marijuana establishments are barred from being located within “500 feet of a public or private school, daycare center, or any facility in which children commonly congregate.” Warner asked that that language be more specific, to include other places such as playgrounds and parks.

Others raised concerns about establishments that co-located medical marijuana — available to those age 18 and up — and recreational marijuana, which is for those 21 and up.

Sharon Hall-Smith, coordinator of the Springfield Drug Free Communities Coalition, praised the commission for its current rules on marijuana advertising, which are strict, numerous and include bans on the use of cartoons, brand sponsorships or any other appeals to those under the age of 21.

“But we do still have concerns,” she said.

Her organization and others want to prevent normalization of the drug among youth. To that end, she suggested limiting the number of licenses for on-site consumption, as well as a prohibition on home delivery, which is currently allowed under the regulations.

Others, however, spoke in favor of delivery-only licenses, and advocated for the inclusion of temporary licenses for special events.

“That’s a good place for someone to start,” Audrey Park, of Holyoke, said, urging the commission to keep in mind small businesses and those who have less capital to break into the industry.

Robert Mayerson, the chief executive of the large medical marijuana dispensary company Patriot Care, said he opposes delivery-only licenses because he said it is an easy conduit for black-market activity.

Mayerson, whose company will soon open a dispensary in Greenfield, also called for money to be made available to law enforcement to go after black-market operations.

“The reality is that law enforcement isn’t going to step in and go after the gray market and black market operations,” he said, unless money is specifically earmarked to that end.

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


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