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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Trying or “Trying”?

While our intent as a group was to read our statement peacefully at January 9ths CCC meeting, one participant became extremely frustrated and had a difficult time maintaining his emotions. While some bystanders found his actions distasteful, the Commissioners are not the victims; they created this frustration. While we do not condone the way these frustrations were presented, we fully understand why the events of that meeting transpired the way it did. With the media’s coverage, the original message and his valid points became clouded.  

“We are not engaging to slow down the process. We are doing this to force accountability of the Commission with the law. They are letting applications sit idle for months, running Economic Empowerment Applicants out of money, and keeping market control in the hands of the well-heeled Multi-State Operators and big operators.”

NO APPROVAL UNTIL EEA APPROVAL 

To continue holding the CCC accountable for not prioritizing Economic Empowerment Applicants the way the law intended, the surprise public meeting, posted only 48 hours before January 9th, abruptly ended 5 minutes after it commenced, but not before they did something they could have done the whole time: they simultaneously passed all applicants on the agenda. Usually, this process discusses each applicant individually or in groups, but within the first 3 minutes, the CCC approved 31 groups at once… It’s like they knew we were coming.

 

After the first disruption on December 19th’s meeting, the public hearing that was promised should have been prioritized before scheduling a public meeting. It would behoove the CCC to go back and review where they went wrong with the Economic Empowerment Applicants who have been waiting in the queue longer than the allotted time.

 

We appreciate that after the meeting, a few staff members did take the time to speak with us. Between “we are trying” and “this is what we’ve gotten done so far,” there’s a large disconnect between what has been accomplished and what is still left unresolved. The intent behind the laws differs greatly when compared to the way the CCC is executing the prioritization of EE applicants.

 

When we say “no approvals until Economic Empowerment approvals”, we are underlining the fact that there are 11 EE applicants waiting in line, and that they are being asked for more information with little to no justification. With the lack of communication from the CCC, massive confusion adds insult to injury. Suitability Review (the most wasteful section of the Commission’s regulations) seems to exclude crimes statistically committed more often by white offenders, such as tax evasion, fraud, or other white-collar crimes. The only way in which the CCC has remained consistent is with the egregious lack of communication and documentation to back up these injustices.

 

Yes, 5 EEAs have been approved for PCR already, yet none are operational. This is not enough! When the process for general applicants is faster, and they are operational in less time than those who have “priority approved” applications in the queue, “priority applicants” lose–every time–and that is unacceptable. Where are the checks and balances? Where is the accountability? 

 

The DPH transferred authority of the medical marijuana program to the CCC in December 2018. When we discuss medical applications not being approved, we mean that after eight years, more than the existing 55 RMDs should be operational with over 100 waiting in line. Because of the long waiting periods for medical licenses, applicants are abandoning their medical applications in favor of adult-use licenses because the process is faster. When RMD’s can abandon their medical status because opening an adult-use facility is faster, patients suffer. RMDs given the opportunity for priority review in cities/towns not listed on their medical application dilute the pool of priority, pushing EEAs to the back of the line. Session Laws Acts (2017) Chapter 55 states:

 

SECTION 56. (a) The Massachusetts cannabis control commission shall prioritize review and licensing decisions for applicants for retail, manufacture or cultivation licenses who:

     (i) are registered marijuana dispensaries with a final or a provisional certificate of registration in good standing with the department of public health pursuant to 105 CMR 725.000 that are operational and dispensing to qualifying patients; or

     (ii) demonstrate experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for offenses under chapter 94C of the General Laws.

 

The CCC was tasked to develop policies surrounding licensing prioritization. They were warned about interpreting Section 56 without defining that the RMD gets priority where they are already operational and dispensing, and not in a brand new town where they did not apply for a medical license at all. It was brought to their attention in March of 2018, that these interpretations would hurt the supposed prioritization of Economic Empowerment Applicants because they would have to compete with large and Multi-State Operators. The CCC moved away from the original understanding of the law and must admit that they made a mistake. On October 10th, the Commissioners (Commissioner Hoffman voted no) voted to change the policy, which may be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

 

The CCC needs to openly admit and explain to the public the mistake they made by interpreting the law in a way far removed from the intention of the legislature. Steps need to be taken to fix this problem retroactively to repair the harm done to EEAs. The Economic Empowerment Priority was nullified the moment the CCC decided to more broadly interpret the law. The CCC should stop issuing Adult-Use licenses until EEAs are properly prioritized.

 

The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition respects and commends the Commissioners as individuals for taking on the enormous task of helping to craft this industry, but we must ask: if 4 out of the 5 commissioners voted no on Question 4, how could they possibly fulfill their CCC duties to the best of their ability? Because of the bias against cannabis legalization that they demonstrated when they voted against Question 4, the growth of the legal cannabis industry in Massachusetts is stunted compared to other states–we were ahead and are now falling quickly behind other states. For example, Oklahoma:

 

  1. Allows people convicted of non-violent felonies to participate in the industry;
  2. They prepared for interstate commerce;
  3. They protect patients’ second amendment rights;

Handed out thousands of licenses already.

 

Could Massachusetts be any further behind?

 

When legislators respond with their concerns, the Governor, Treasurer, and Attorney General must hold the Commission accountable. Legislators have expressed concern about the non-existent level at which the CCC is reviewing all Community Host Agreements to ensure that contracts do not exceed the maximum 3% of licensed facilities’ gross revenue being sent to the town hosting the licensed facility. Going further, these concerns developed into a page of questions asking specifically about what the CCC has accomplished thus far. 

 

Having millions of dollars does not make applicants wiser or more qualified than those who are financially less fortunate. Merely possessing a license in another state does not prove an individual more worthy of Massachusetts licensure, and the possession of such a license does not demonstrate the ability to operate a business with lawful or moral-abiding integrity. More respect should be given to those with experience in the illicit market whose knowledge is just as valuable as those operating a vertically integrated RMD.

 

Don’t forget about the activists. Economic Empowerment Applicants fight for their livelihoods every day, and in turn, set the standard for all the applicants who follow in their footsteps. Make no mistake, EEAs are activists who are fighting for change and fighting for their communities. The words of those disproportionately affected by Prohibition fall on deaf ears when big business and Multi-State Operators command the attention and adoration of those in charge of setting the standard in Massachusetts.

 

We hope now that the government and regulatory agencies who once thought they could better manage this new industry (and thought they knew what was best for our state) are starting to realize they were incredibly wrong. The Commission needs to start listening to The People and stop listening to those looking to protect their monopoly.

 

The passionate outcry at the meeting on January 9th, 2020, was caused by the actions of the CCC. The protest occurred because those speaking out knew their voices were not being heard. Commissioner Hoffman said “We have to do our business in public and it’s unfortunate that that’s being made challenging,” but that statement shows that he is completely disconnected from the people directly affected by his actions and the actions of the entire Commission. If the Commission can approve 31 licenses in under 5 minutes, they can obviously grant licenses at a quicker pace, and the processing of EEAs should be executed in a more expeditious manner. 

 

Passive Prohibition is very much alive and thriving in the state of Massachusetts. The delay experienced by people with backgrounds that qualify for Economic Empowerment licensure borders on corruption.

 

The Cannabis Control Commission is a regulatory agency that is not paid to try; they are paid to act and deliver results. We ask that the CCC take responsibility for the current state of Economic Empowerment priority, start listening more to people with experience and less to those with financial means.

 

We will be meeting on Sunday the 19th to prepare for the public listening session with the CCC on January 23rd. Stay tuned for details.

 

“Strong blow to the CCC by the Economic Empowerment Advocates. The meeting ended abruptly, and they did not want to engage in the public. Good job to the advocates, and I give a zero to the cowardly CCC who walked out with no explanation. We told them we would be watching.” Bill Flynn, President, MassCann

 

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