Massachusetts weed growers are training their sights on the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, increasingly prepared to pull the trigger on a lawsuit to compel the commission to review agreements between cannabis companies and their host towns. In other words, what growers want is better oversight of those agreements. But it looks like they’re going to have to get it in court. The looming legal action argues that without better oversight, the agreements foster corruption and give undue power to municipal authorities.
Massachusetts Cities Put The Squeeze on Cannabis Companies
Massachusetts voters legalized cannabis for adult use in November 2016. Yet the state still doesn’t have a legal retail market in place. And if you’re a cannabis company in Massachusetts, it’s not because you’re having a hard time getting your license application in order or setting up your facility or hiring staff that business hasn’t commenced. It’s because you have to sign an agreement with the town hosting you.
Under Massachusetts’ marijuana regulations, municipalities are the last barrier standing between a weed company and a license. And if you’re one of those municipalities, that puts you in a very powerful position. Without the host community’s consent, the Cannabis Control Commission will not consider a business’ license application.
Growers say the community agreement requirement has opened the door to extortion and bribery. Massachusetts marijuana law includes a “community impact fee” that companies agree to pay a city that hosts them as part of their agreement. The fee is capped at 3 percent of gross sales. But growers say cities are using their leverage to ask for more, refusing to sign agreements without a top off.
The law is, according to commission Chairman Steven Hoffman, “explicit up to a point.” But beyond that point, cities can ask for “voluntary donations” or other financial incentives. And growers say that makes the situation ripe for abuse—and already has. License applicants with deeper pockets can bribe their way to a community agreement or meet extra requirements other companies can’t.
Growers Want More Oversight on City Agreements
But growers aren’t challenging the requirement for the municipal agreements. They’re not even challenging the 3 percent gross sales fee. Their legal action is demanding much less. They just want the Cannabis Control Commission to review the agreements and strike down any clauses that go too far. So far, the CCC has said it doesn’t have the authority to intervene in that manner. But Hoffman has stated that he believes the state Legislature needs to further clarify and tighten standards of what is and isn’t allowed under these agreements.
Lawmakers involved in crafting the policy, however, took a dig at the CCC. Marijuana Policy Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Cusack responded to Hoffman’s call for legislative clarification by questioning the commission’s reading comprehension.
With the CCC voting 4-1 to refuse to review host city agreements, however, the only option left is leaving it up to a judge. The ironic thing is that asking the CCC to review the agreements will only delay the start of retail sales further. Both the problem and its solution, a legal challenge, are stretching out a timeline that’s already months behind what consumers anticipated.