Sweeping cannabis industry reforms enacted by Baker

BOSTON (State House News Service) — Nearly six years after voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana and nearly four years since legal sales began, Governor Charlie Baker has signed into law the first major milestone of its kind by the state government to strengthen the fledgling industry and tear apart the barriers its participants face.

Baker endorsed nearly everything in a sweeping cannabis industry regulatory reform bill, green light measures to increase diversity in the field, increase oversight of deals between marijuana companies and municipalities, and get closer to social pot drinking sites.

The Republican governor removed a single section of the bill that would have required state agencies to consider ways to allow students to possess and use medical marijuana on K-12 school grounds.

With his signature on the cannabis bill and a landmark clean energy bill on Thursday, Baker has now cleared his desk of a heavy pile of legislation that lawmakers sent him during their frantic scramble until at the end of official sessions.

The marijuana legislation, approved 153-2 in the House and unanimously in the Senate, targets issues that have plagued the growing industry in the years since lawmakers rewrote the voter-approved law.

At a meeting of the Cannabis Control Commission hours before Baker signed the bill into law on Thursday, Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion called on her colleagues to “take a moment today to recognize the importance of this moment. and the magnitude of that impact.

“I’m by no means saying this one piece of legislation will solve all the problems the cannabis industry is facing, but it’s a huge step,” she said. “It’s monumental.”

One of the most persistent issues cited is the lack of diversity in the field, even as Massachusetts lawmakers have demanded that equity and inclusion be built into the legal framework.

To combat this, the legislation would create a new Social Equity Trust Fund and endow it with 15% of the money from the Marijuana Regulatory Fund, which is itself funded by tax revenue. marijuana excise, application and license fees, and industry penalties.

The Social Equity Trust Fund would make grants and loans available to aspiring marijuana entrepreneurs with a focus on supporting people of color and other populations disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Shanel Lindsay, a cannabis advocate who worked on the initiative’s 2016 petition, said Baker and lawmakers “made history with this vital – and overdue – grant and loan fund.”

“This bill is an important step forward in righting the wrongs of prohibition and over-policing and will provide an important avenue for families of color to create jobs in their communities and generate generational wealth,” said said Lindsay, co-founder of Equitable Opportunities. Now said in a statement.

The legislation also strengthens the CCC with new authority to review and approve host community agreements, which marijuana companies are required to enter into with the cities and towns where they do business.

These deals will only be allowed for the first eight years of a marijuana business’s operation. The “Community Impact Fee” that businesses pay to the town or city will not be able to exceed 3% of an establishment’s gross sales and must be “reasonably related” to the costs the municipality faces as a result of the operating the marijuana business.

“This law will rebalance the playing field, where until now wealthy corporations have been able to navigate their way through the licensing process and too many local small business owners and black and brown entrepreneurs have been locked out,” Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Boston Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Cannabis Policy Committee, said. “The reforms and funding we have fought so hard for will be a game-changer, putting Massachusetts back among the leading states for racial justice in our cannabis economic policy. I am so grateful to the many community members and grassroots leaders who came together and held the feet of the state on fire to make this happen.

Former regulators and advocates have warned that the host community agreement process is ripe for exploitation. Some pointed to the high-profile arrest and conviction of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, who extorted entrepreneurs seeking to open marijuana dispensaries in his town.

Another section of the bill outlines a process for cities and towns to license on-site cannabis smoking establishments, often referred to as “pot cafes,” which is another major step forward for the role marijuana plays in the Massachusetts.

Baker said he supports “many provisions this bill adopts to improve regulation of the cannabis industry” as well as “the bill’s efforts to expand opportunities for social equity businesses.”

But one specific measure has sparked his opposition: a plan to study medical marijuana in schools.

The section Baker vetoed would have instructed the CCC, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Department of Public Health to study and make recommendations on “the removal of barriers and the expansion of facilities for possessing, administering and consuming medical marijuana and public and private schools”. among students who have legal medical marijuana cards.

Baker argued that the measure as written “is very prescriptive – making it clear that the agencies producing the study need to identify ways to make medical marijuana widely available in schools, rather than wondering if such an allowance is desirable”.

“Election initiatives that legalized medical marijuana in 2012 and 2016 included strong measures to keep marijuana away from K-12 schools and school children. Both laws explicitly stated that marijuana would not be permitted on school property under any circumstances,” he wrote in his letter to lawmakers. “Because the proposed study in Section 26 clearly flies in the face of these important and well-established protections and disregards the clear intentions of voters in legalizing marijuana use, I cannot endorse this part of the law Project.”

The legislators left themselves no recourse to transform this article into law despite Baker’s veto. It took them several months to find consensus on the bill, wrapping up the work hours before moving into a series of informal-only sessions, where they can’t take the roll-call votes needed for a waiver.

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