The Cannabis Control Commission is continuing its aggressive schedule to prepare the state for the forthcoming recreational marijuana industry, with the release of its draft regulations and a guidance document for local officials.

State and federal officials and the CCC, meanwhile, are attempting to bring some clarity to Massachusetts’ status as a state that has legalized a substance still considered illegal under federal law.

Draft regulations and municipal guidance
The CCC’s 107-page draft regulations, released on Dec. 21, detail the different types of marijuana establishments that can be licensed in Massachusetts and the rules governing review and approval of applications.

The proposed regulations (935 CMR 500) will govern the operation of marijuana establishments and the enforcement of the rules. Many sections would affect cities and towns, including 935 CMR 500.101, which specifies some of the rules governing community outreach, compliance with local ordinances and bylaws, and “host community agreements.”

On Jan. 9, the Cannabis Control Commission issued a guidance document specifically for municipal officials to help them understand the local role in the new recreational marijuana marketplace and to highlight key aspects of the agency’s draft marijuana regulations.

The 10-page document offers greater detail on a number of salient issues facing municipalities, including the first in-depth breakdown of the types of marijuana businesses that will be licensed, the Cannabis Control Commission’s roles and duties, the municipal role in the licensing process, the parameters of local control, and a note on host community agreements.

The document is intended to offer local officials details to help them make decisions about whether to enact an outright ban or simply limit the number and/or types of recreational marijuana businesses.

Download the CCC’s municipal guidance document (468K PDF)
Download the draft “Adult Use of Marijuana” regulations issued by the Cannabis Control Commission (1.8M PDF)

Under the state’s recreational marijuana law, municipalities may limit the number of marijuana facilities in their community to 20 percent of their number of liquor licenses. Many communities seeking to enact a ban did so universally.

The document provides differentiation not just between marijuana cultivators and retailers, but adds “marijuana product manufacturers,” “craft marijuana cultivator cooperatives,” “marijuana research facilities,” “independent testing laboratories,” “marijuana transporters,” and “marijuana social consumption establishments.” It also breaks down the types of cultivators, transporters, and retail facilities.

Of particular relevance to local officials is the section titled “Municipal Role in the Commission Licensing Process,” which clarifies the nature of the relationship between the applicant and the proposed host community.

The regulations would require applicants to have held community outreach meetings in the proposed host community within six months of the application, and they must 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 in effect at the time of the application. Once the CCC notifies a municipality that it has received a completed application for an adult marijuana business in the community, the municipality would 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 (the scheduled date for the CCC to begin accepting applications), under the proposed regulations any prospective marijuana business would be required to engage in community outreach and to have a signed community host agreement before its license could be issued.

The municipal guidance document also addresses issues such as the means by which municipalities will receive their share of the tax revenues collected.

Federal issues
The CCC has faced many questions about the future of 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 that a higher priority is combating the opioid crisis.

“I think that understandably causes some concern among people who want to work in the new marijuana industry, and I get that,” he said. “But there’s not much I can do about that except to say that I have about 14 prosecutors who specialize in drug enforcement. I can tell you that all 14 of them are spending the bulk of their time chasing down bulk trafficking of heroin and opioids.”

Lelling has also said that he intends to follow the rules laid out by the Rohrabacher-Farr budget rider, which prohibits federal resources from being used to prosecute cases relating to legal medical marijuana.

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.

“We have a state law that we’re intending to enforce,” said Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett, who oversees the State Police, “and the state law was voted on by the people of Massachusetts. We have no intention of raiding a pot shop that is legal under state law.”

Public hearings
The CCC will be holding public hearings on its proposed regulations beginning according to the following schedule:

• Feb. 5, Pittsfield: 8:30-11 a.m. at Berkshire Community College, K111 Lecture Hall, 1350 West St. (Snow date: Feb. 12, 8:30-11 a.m.)
• Feb. 5, Holyoke: 2-5 p.m. at Leslie Philips Theater, Holyoke Community College, 303 Homestead Ave.
• Feb. 6, Hyannis: 9 a.m.-noon. at Barnstable Town Hall, Public Hearing Room, 367 Main St.
• Feb. 6, Greenfield: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Franklin Regional Council of Governments, William Allen Community Room, 12 Olive St.
• Feb. 6, Dartmouth: 2-5 p.m. at UMass School of Law, Rooms 231-232, 333 Faunce Corner Road (Snow date: Feb. 13, 2-5 p.m.)
• Feb. 7, Worcester: 9 a.m.-noon at Public Library, Saxe Room, 3 Salem Square (Snow date: Feb. 14, 9 a.m.-noon)
• Feb. 7, Danvers: 2-5 p.m. at North Shore Community College, Math/Science Building, Room 119, 1 Ferncroft Road (Snow date: Feb. 14, 2-5 p.m.)
• Feb. 8, Boston: 1-4 p.m. at McCormack Building, One Ashburton Place, 21st Floor (Snow date: Feb. 13, 1-4 p.m.)
• Feb. 9, West Tisbury: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Public Library, 1042 State Road
• Feb. 13, Boston: 6-8:30 p.m. at the Bolling Municipal Building, 2300 Washington St., 2nd Floor, Roxbury

The commission expects to finalize its regulations by March 15 and to begin accepting license applications on April 1, with the prospect of issuing the first provisional licenses on or soon after June 1. For more information, visit www.mass.gov/orgs/cannabis-control-commission.

Written by MMA Legislative Analyst David Lakeman