Steven J. Hoffman, Chair
Cannabis Control Commission
Boston, MA

RE: Draft Guidance Host Community Agreements

Dear Chair Hoffman and Members of the Cannabis Control Commission,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer comments on the draft guidance on Host Community Agreements. We would like to express our appreciation to the Commission members and staff for the opportunity to provide input on this document and hope that we may continue to work closely with the Commission members and staff on any further development of guidance documents or regulations.

Municipal officials have been on the front line of implementing the new law and have a responsibility to ensure that it is done in a balanced way that maximizes the benefits of the health and safety concerns, and possible adverse effects on residents, business, neighborhoods, economic development plans, or other important considerations. As part of the implementation process, municipalities and private recreational marijuana establishments have been negotiating terms in their host community agreements, and we have heard from a number of communities that these negotiations have largely been a positive experience with both sides coming to the table to negotiate freely and in good faith.

The MMA believes that adoption of a guidance by the Commission at this point is premature and overreaching. Contracting between local governments and private entities is a long-established practice to which providing limiting guidance could have long-term effects on the ability of municipalities to contract freely, even outside the marijuana industry. The MMA strongly supports existing municipal contracts that allow for the negotiation of monetary or development donations for the benefit of the municipality. Some examples include housing development contracts, host community agreements with the gaming industry, and contracts with the movie industry. The MMA believes that limiting the guidance to the distinction between a tax and fee unnecessarily diverts the discussion away from contract law, when in fact a host community agreement is simply a contract.

Additionally, it is likely that once the marijuana industry becomes more established in Massachusetts, and the market becomes saturated, private marijuana establishments will gain the upper hand in the negotiations. Tying the hands of municipalities will severely limit their ability to come to the table as equals, and could undermine their ability to represent the public’s interest in a balanced setting.

We applaud the Commission for taking its time in the thoughtful roll-out of regulations and guidance thus far. We emphasize that municipal officials should have the same opportunity to thoughtfully roll-out a new industry in their own cities and towns. Implementation of new zoning bylaws and ordinances takes time, and municipalities should be afforded latitude to establish the marijuana industry in a way that is agreeable to the constituents in their respective communities. This includes the ability to properly vet private marijuana establishments and negotiate agreeable terms in the host community agreement. We hope that the Commission will stand strong against the pressure from industry acolytes who wish to short-circuit the public process for their own private purposes and gain.

The MMA hopes that the Commission will hold off on issuing guidance for host community agreements at this time and continue to work closely with the MMA and municipalities. As of July 26, there were 85 license applications under review at the Commission, with many more to come. The MMA fears that this guidance would become more of a hindrance than a help to the fair negotiation of future host community agreements, and also to those that already exist. We would also caution the Commission that weighing in on the terms of these contracts is a slippery slope, and that over-regulation of municipal contracts may amount to improper adjudication.

Thank you very much for your consideration. If you have any questions or wish to receive additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at 617-426-7272 at any time.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO