Cannabis Control Commission finalizes marijuana regulations

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By unanimous vote, the Cannabis Control Commission yesterday adopted final regulations to govern the recreational marijuana marketplace.
The commission expects to begin accepting license applications for marijuana-related businesses on April 1, with the prospect of issuing the first provisional licenses on June 1. Retail marijuana sales are expected to begin around July 1.
The final regulations (935 CMR 500) include nine license categories: cultivator, craft marijuana cooperative, microbusiness, product manufacturer, independent testing laboratory, storefront retailer, third-party transporter, existing licensee transporter, and research facility. The rules also establish universal product-labelling symbols to indicate that marijuana products are harmful to children.
The commission will now incorporate language approved at yesterday’s meeting into the final regulations before filing them with the secretary of the Commonwealth.
The MMA will be reviewing the extensive regulations as soon as they become available and will provide additional information on this website and in the April issue of The Beacon.
The draft version of the regulations, released on Dec. 21, covered a range of issues important to municipalities. Sections that would affect cities and towns include 935 CMR 500.101, which governs community outreach, compliance with local ordinances and bylaws, and host community agreements.
The regulations will require marijuana establishment applicants to hold community outreach meetings in proposed host communities within six months of the application, and to have a completed host community agreement with the municipality prior to applying to the CCC for a license.
Applicants must also present proof that their proposed site complies with local ordinances and bylaws that are in effect at the time of the application. Once the CCC notifies a municipality that it has received a completed application for a recreational marijuana business in the community, the municipality will have 60 days to notify the CCC whether the application is in compliance.
Even in communities looking to enact zoning bylaws at a spring town meeting that takes place after April 1, under the regulations any prospective marijuana business will be required to engage in community outreach and to have a signed community host agreement before its license could be issued.
The MMA testified in favor of these rules during public hearings held in February.
“We believe that local officials know their communities best, and that this section would lead to a more productive partnership between communities and marijuana establishments that respects the will of the voters while ensuring a robust municipal voice in regulating the new industry at the local level,” the MMA stated in its written testimony. “A similar model was used successfully in the medical marijuana program, which allowed for safe access to medical marijuana while allaying public health and safety concerns.”
The draft regulations did not address several issues important to local governments across the state. Chief among these is the status of a registered medical dispensary that seeks to “flip” to recreational sales in a city or town that has enacted a ban via the process laid out in Section 56(d) of Chapter 94G. The law and draft regulations do not provide clarity on whether an RMD can be licensed to sell recreational products in a city or town with a ban.
The MMA also urged the CCC to clarify which way a local government must round when calculating the number of recreational facilities as a percentage of liquor licenses, and also requested that the commission state unequivocally that it would respect local moratoriums.
In the end, the CCC backed away from controversial draft regulations that would have allowed “social-use” establishments, such as cannabis cafés, where patrons would be allowed to use marijuana on premises. The CCC also put on hold regulations that provided for mixed-use establishments, such as yoga studios or chocolatiers, where proprietors would be allowed to sell or offer recreational marijuana goods.
The commission also put the brakes on a proposal to allow for direct delivery of marijuana products from cultivators to consumers.
These provisions generated concern from a number of elected officials, including the governor, as well as from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Department of Public Health, and the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, all of whom encouraged the CCC to proceed slowly with regulations and to focus initially on establishing the nascent industry before expanding categories for sale, delivery and consumption.
The MMA was among those urging the commission to hold off on issuing new types of licenses until the recreational marijuana industry is well-established.
The CCC has also faced questions about the future of the legal marijuana industry since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Jan. 4 revoked an internal Justice Department guidance document (the “Cole Memo”) that had essentially established a federal policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws. The new U.S. attorney in Boston, Andrew Lelling, has said that he plans to obey federal law, but combating the opioid crisis is a higher priority.
Both the Boston and State Police have said that they will not assist federal authorities in pursuing legal action against businesses or consumers engaged in marijuana activity that is legal under state law.
Massachusetts voters passed the so-called recreational marijuana law in November 2016. The law allows businesses to sell, grow, test and produce marijuana products, subject to state-issued licenses. As of last Dec. 15, it became legal for individuals age 21 or older to possess, grow, use and “gift” certain amounts of marijuana in Massachusetts.
The law also established the Cannabis Control Commission and the Cannabis Advisory Board, which includes a municipal representative.
For more information about the state’s recreational marijuana law and regulations, visit
Written by MMA Legislative Analyst David Lakeman and MMA Publications Editor & Web Director John Ouellette