BOSTON – The legal market is still taking shape nearly four years since voters legalized marijuana in Massachusetts, and rules around home delivery of cannabis and access options for medical patients were at the center of the latest round of push-and-pull on Monday between the industry, medical patients and regulators.
Aspiring entrepreneurs, medical marijuana patients and caregivers gave regulators plenty to think about during a public hearing held Monday to collect input as the Cannabis Control Commission works through at least its third phase of rule-making about three years since its inception.
Delivery service was one area of the CCC’s draft regulations for adult-use marijuana that attracted significant public comment. The commission approved a delivery license structure in the fall and made applications available in May, but has not yet licensed a delivery-only business. Several prospective cannabis delivery operators told commissioners Monday that the framework for delivery will not work as currently written.
“We think that it’s not economically viable in its current form, even though the intention behind it is very well-meaning. So to make this a viable license type, the delivery, we think there’s three very important changes that should be made to the draft regulations,” said Morriss Partee, president of Emerald River LLC and adviser to the Massachusetts Cannabis Association for Delivery.
Partee and others from the MCAD said delivery licensees need the ability to purchase marijuana and marijuana products wholesale from cultivators and manufacturers. As the CCC’s regulations are written, all marijuana delivered by a licensee must be sourced from a CCC-licensed retailer. They also said delivery businesses need to be allowed to store products overnight.
“You can’t talk about wholesale without talking about storage. So right now, delivery companies have to return those (unsold or declined) goods back to the retailer at the end of the day. With the ability to wholesale, it needs to be paired with warehousing or storage because those companies need to be able to store those goods overnight. And then we’ll be able to take care of them, similar to a retailer,” Christopher Fevry, co-founder of Your Green Package and president of MCAD, said.
Home delivery of marijuana has long been allowed under the state’s medical marijuana program, and advocates pushed for a delivery-only license in the recreational market arguing that it will help level the playing field between large corporations and small businesses because the barriers to entry for delivery are typically far less burdensome than those for retail licenses.
Delivery licenses are available exclusively to participants in the CCC’s Social Equity Program and certified economic empowerment applicants for a minimum of two years. Fevry, Partee and others told the CCC that the exclusivity period should be longer.
“If the exclusivity period remains at two years, this will not give the commission enough time to evaluate the success or lack thereof of the delivery license since not every operator will be licensed at the start of the period, and evaluation must occur many months before the expiration date of exclusivity,” Partee said. “To give yourselves enough time to evaluate the program and what changes might need to be made, please extend exclusivity to three years, with an option to renew at that point.”
The CCC’s latest draft of regulations for the medical marijuana program also attracted plenty of feedback during Monday’s hearing. Of particular interest was the CCC’s proposal to allow medical marijuana caregivers to care for to up to 10 patients each.
“I currently serve as a caregiver for two patients through a waiver from the commission, so I obviously support the ability for caregivers to serve more than one patient at a time. However, I do believe that placing the number at 10 is an invitation for abuse,” said Jeremiah McKinnon, a member of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance advisory board. “The commission should instead establish a case-by-case basis that determines whether or not the caregiver is suitable to serve additional patients. This process can take into consideration the public health and safety measures necessary for a caregiver to ensure proper care of multiple patients.”
Nichole Snow, the president and executive director of the MPAA, said her organization “mathematically theorized a caregiver ratio of one caregiver, 10 patients would be sufficient to provide safe access for the number of registered patients” in 2015 but said the ratio “is no longer necessary” because all adults can now legally grow their own marijuana. She said the MPAA would rather see caregivers approved to care for multiple patients on a case-by-case basis.
“An arbitrary number of patients per caregiver will likely open the door to a gray market that is indistinguishable from the legally-regulated market you and the staff have worked so hard on developing,” Snow told the commissioners Monday.
Another MPAA official, Development Director Michael Latulippe, asked that the CCC make its executive director’s bulletin allowing initial medical marijuana patient certification to take place via a telehealth appointment between the patient and a physician a permanent part of its regulations.
“The medical program suffers from the same problems as traditional health care in communities of disproportionate impact. Additionally, patients in rural areas and patients incapacitated by their conditions are limited by this regulation. It is widely reported that veterans, victims of incarceration, and many other groups in areas of disproportionate impact suffer from post-traumatic stress and have a general anxiety towards health care, that creates social disparities in health care access for those groups,” he said.
Also included in the latest draft of the CCC’s regulations is a requirement that retailers display in-store and disclose on packaging that vape products have been tested for Vitamin E acetate but may still be harmful to health regardless.
The regulations would also allow for delivery licensees to have an interest in another license type (and vice versa), more flexibility for the CCC to add new groups to its Social Equity Program, and a new a process for the CCC to be notified of and have oversight over licensees placed under the control of a receiver by a Massachusetts court. That last regulation is necessary because bankruptcy court is not an option for businesses that are illegal at the federal level.
The CCC will accept written comments emailed to Commission@cccmass.com until 5 p.m. Aug. 14. The commission expects to vote on the final set of regulations on Sept. 24.