CCC reaches key agreements on medical pot, cultivation

BY State House News Service

Steven Hoffman is the chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.

Hoping to assuage fears that medical marijuana patients could find their medicine in short supply when dispensaries begin selling to the newly-legal retail market, state pot regulators on Tuesday agreed to a policy that will require dispensaries to hold some marijuana aside for medical patients.
Registered medical dispensaries (RMDs) that wish to add the ability to sell marijuana to non-patients will be required to reserve 30 percent of their inventory or the six-month average of its medical marijuana sales for medical marijuana patients under the proposal the Cannabis Control Commission agreed to Tuesday. 
Medical marijuana patient advocates cheered the new policy. Patients had been worried that the demand for marijuana around the expected July 1 launch of adult use marijuana sales would overwhelm the supply and make it harder for patients to find the medicine they use.
"The patients were very concerned, I had been hearing about it over years and years in my advocacy," Nichole Snow, the president and executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said. "We just wanted to deliver what we see out in the real world to the commission and it looks like they took all of our messages very seriously."
Snow and other medical marijuana patients had been lobbying the CCC to do something that would protect the supply of marijuana for medical patients. There are currently 22 RMDs open for medical marijuana sales in Massachusetts serving more than 46,000 patients, according to the Department of Public Health.
By law, licensed RMDs that apply to sell recreational marijuana will get priority when applications are reviewed, leading to the likelihood that many of the retail shops that are prepared to begin selling marijuana on July 1 will be RMDs.
CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman called protecting the supply of marijuana for registered patients "a very important social welfare and health issue." The CCC unanimously agreed to the policy and commissioners are expected to take final votes next week to enshrine the policy into regulation.. 
The CCC is in the middle of three days of policy debate based on the feedback elected officials, interest groups and citizens had to the commission's draft regulations.
Though some votes have been postponed until Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday so the commission can craft the specific regulation language, regulators on Tuesday morning were also in agreement on a system they said will help prevent overgrowing and diversion from licensed marijuana farms.
The CCC's regulations have established four tiers of production -- ranging from up to 1,000 square feet to larger than 10,000 square feet -- and agreed Tuesday to a policy that will bump a licensee down to a lower tier if it has not shown an ability to sell at least 85 percent of what it is authorized to grow.
"It's kind of like Premier League football," Hoffman said. "It's called relegation, I think."
Under a relegation system, a cultivator who is licensed to grow up to 10,000 square feet but does not sell at least 85 percent of its product into the legal market during a six-month period would be bumped down a tier and would see its maximum authorized canopy area decrease from 10,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet.
"I personally believe that the issue of diversion and overproduction is easily addressed by the relegation," Hoffman said. "There's not going to be overproduction because we're going to force people to a lower tier if they're not producing."
The CCC on Tuesday morning agreed to reduce the proposed fees and fines for outdoor growers by 50 percent -- the new application fees would range from $50 to $300 based on the size of the farm and the new annual license fee schedule would start at $500. 
"I recognize that unlike California, where the fees for indoor cultivation can be in the tens of thousands of dollars and dramatically lower for outdoor cultivation, these differences are not anywhere near as significant," Hoffman, who proposed the reduction, said. "Perhaps we can be accused of being symbolic here, although I think for small farmers even these small differences are impactful."
Commissioner Kay Doyle said she thinks the reduced fees and fines could incentivize outdoor cultivation, which she said would address some of the energy use and environmental concerns the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs raised about indoor growing.
The commission agreed to the new fees and fine schedule Tuesday but deferred a vote to Wednesday so Hoffman can crunch the numbers to be able to report exactly how the reductions might affect the CCC's revenue stream.
"I can assure you that economically this is not going to have an impact in terms of our budget and our operations," he said. 
The CCC also agreed Tuesday to clarify in its regulations that adults will be able to purchase marijuana seeds or clones of marijuana plants from licensed retailers to be able to grow on their own. Adults are currently allowed to grow six marijuana plants at home, or up to 12 if two adults live at the home. 
Commissioner Shaleen Title said, "there are consumers who wish to take advantage of the homegrown provision in our law and would appreciate the opportunity to purchase seeds and clones." The CCC is expected to vote on a technical change to the draft regulations on Wednesday to make clear that seeds and clones will be legal to sell.
The issue of seeds is expected to come back up as the CCC works through the policy issues raised in feedback to the agency's draft industry rules by the end of the day Wednesday. Title said she has heard from farmers and consumers who are unhappy the law requires that the marijuana sold be "free of seeds and stems."
Marijuana users are generally upset when they find seeds or stems -- parts of the plant that do not contribute to the high feeling -- in a bag of marijuana they purchased based on weight.
"This was complete news to me, that there are certain strains that are seeded and this is a strain that people prefer," said Title, who proposed finding a way to accommodate such consumers. "I saw no reason to prohibit that."
The CCC is expected to discuss that issue when it delves into the operational requirements for marijuana businesses. After three days of policy debate this week, the commission is planning to meet March 6 and 7 to take final votes on what will be enshrined in the final regulations due to the secretary of state's office by March 15.