BOSTON, (State House) – The 33 amendments senators have filed to the marijuana legislation on tap for Thursday’s formal session are as wide-ranging as the bill itself, running the gamut from technical contract tweaks to potency limits and advertising restrictions.
The bill (S 2801) the Senate plans to debate Thursday is designed to tackle issues that activists, regulators, businesses and municipalities have said are holding Massachusetts back from realizing the full potential of the 2016 legalization law, especially its first-in-the-nation social equity mandates. The bill has good odds of being in the mix as lawmakers send bills to the governor’s desk in the coming months; House Speaker Ron Mariano’s office has said addressing many of the same issues is a priority for him.
The primary aims of the legislation are to put tighter restrictions and enhanced oversight on the host community agreements marijuana businesses are required to enter into with their host communities, to make grants and loans available through a new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund to participants in the Cannabis Control Commission’s social equity (SE) program or economic empowerment (EE) priority applicants, and to create a method for cities and towns to authorize the on-site cannabis consumption establishments that are already authorized under the CCC’s regulations.
The CCC, as a policy, does not support or oppose specific pieces of legislation, but past and present commissioners have asked for the authority to regulate, review, and enforce host community agreements, advocated for the creation of a social equity fund, called for a technical fix to allow for social consumption sites, and advocated for updates to impaired driving statutes.
The CCC will meet Thursday as the Senate debates its bill.
Sen. Michael Moore filed two amendments (7 and 8) to clarify that HCAs are required unless waived and to give the CCC a 120-day window to review an HCA as part of its licensing process. Sen. John Velis proposed an amendment (15) that would change the bill from directing that the CCC “shall review and approve each” HCA to allowing that the CCC “may review and may reject any” HCA. The Velis amendment would also require written notice of an HCA rejection be sent to the municipality and calls for a process by which a city or town could appeal the CCC’s rejection.
An amendment filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (31) would change how the local impact fee works. Right now, state law allows a host community to collect a fee of up to 3 percent of gross sales from all of its marijuana businesses, but entrepreneurs and advocates say municipalities have taken advantage of the allowance and sought excessive payments. Tarr’s amendment would allow a host community to impose a fee of up to 3 percent of specifically marijuana sales revenue on retailers. The retailers would pay the fee at the same time and in the same manner as they remit the state’s sales tax, and the state would then distribute the money to cities and towns.
Tarr also has an amendment (21) that would create a Host Community Technical Assistance Fund that would help cities and towns develop HCAs and regulate marijuana businesses. The fund would get a piece of the revenues collected from the state’s marijuana excise tax.
To make sure that all money spent from the new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund goes to “entrepreneurs from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the marijuana prohibition and enforcement,” Sen. Adam Gomez filed an amendment (2) to require the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (which would administer the fund) to file an annual report detailing how funds were spent.
The newest senator, Sen. Lydia Edwards, proposed an amendment (16) that would add to the state’s medical marijuana law an allowance for separate license classes including one for medical marijuana product manufacturers, and would give the CCC “the power to encourage full participation in the medical marijuana industry by people from communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.”
Road safety is another popular topic for amendments in the Senate, likely as a response to the provisions of the underlying bill that address a quirk (the Cannabis Policy Committee used the phrase “technical errors”) that has kept so-called marijuana cafes — establishments where an adult could both purchase and use marijuana — from becoming a reality in Massachusetts.
Sen. John Kennan suggests (amendment 28) that no city or town be allowed to hold the vote necessary to approve social consumption sites until field sobriety tests or a chemical test that can determine whether a driver is impaired by marijuana is developed and deemed “scientifically reliable and admissible” in court.
Similar to proposals included in Gov. Charlie Baker’s recurrent drugged driving bill — which the Legislature has spiked in each of the last two sessions by sending it to a study — Tarr filed amendments to prohibit drivers from having loose or unsealed packages of marijuana in their cars in the same way open containers of alcohol are prohibited (10) and to extend the state’s implied consent law (18) to include consent to a test of “blood, or oral fluid, or to all non-testimonial aspects of a drug recognition expert examination for the purpose of determining the presence of other drugs, intoxicating substances or combination of substances.” The list of Senate amendments also includes a handful filed by Sen. Patrick O’Connor seeking to restrict aspects of the existing cannabis industry. The Weymouth Republican, who voted to give the underlying bill a favorable report out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, proposed to limit the potency (13) of some marijuana products, including capping flower at 10 percent THC (retailers offer flower with potencies ranging from single-digits to about 30 percent THC), to add new labeling requirements (14) that “include the increased risk of psychosis, schizophrenia, and suicide with use of THC-containing marijuana products, especially when initiated young or used frequently,” and to prohibit marijuana companies (29) from advertising on billboards.