Medical marijuana patients and recreational consumers gave state regulators plenty to consider as the Cannabis Control Commission sets out this spring to revise and republish the regulations governing both medical and non-medical marijuana sectors.
The regulatory review comes about three months after the Cannabis Control Commission assumed control of the state’s medical marijuana program and as it continues to launch the non-medical marijuana industry in Massachusetts. Commissioners expect to promulgate new sets of regulations by June.
In Boston on Wednesday, patients in the medical marijuana program urged the commission to do away with the annual $50 fee to renew a patient card, to make the patient registration process simpler and more efficient, and to eliminate the requirement that medical dispensaries be “vertically integrated,” meaning they must grow and process all the marijuana they sell.
“End the $50 fee for all patients. Patients are already paying out of pocket to be certified by their doctor. The commission can absorb the cost associated with doing the right thing here for patients,” Jeremiah McKinnon, a board member of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), said.
Frank Shaw, a 66-year-old medical marijuana patient, said he recently had a “ridiculous and unacceptable” experience trying to renew his patient registration card after the CCC took control of the medical program in December.
“My renewal just took 26 days to be processed by the commission. My card was expired for 11 days, which meant I could not go to a dispensary to get my medicine,” he said. “Please fix the registration process so patients like me do not face delays in getting our medicine … the commission cannot wait any longer to implement electronic certification and temporary registration. The current registration process is a disaster.”
Shaw and other medical marijuana patients, as well as officers of the MPAA, also called on the CCC to strengthen the regulation that requires registered medical dispensaries to have “a program to provide reduced cost or free marijuana to patients with documented verified financial hardship.”
Several patients said the standard discount offered to patients with financial hardship — defined in the regulations as any patient who receives MassHealth benefits or Supplemental Security Income, or whose income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level — is 10 percent off the price of the marijuana.
Joanna Varner said she lives on a fixed income of about $300 per month in temporary disability benefits and cannot afford to pay for regulated medical marijuana without a much more significant discount.
“I go off of donations. That means I don’t know if my medicine has been tested, I don’t know where it’s coming from, I don’t know where I’m getting it next,” she said. “Somebody in the position I’m in right now, we were supposed to get free cannabis. We were supposed to walk into a dispensary, have our recommendation and be able to get a certain amount of free cannabis in order to help us be able to survive every month. That’s not happening in this commonwealth. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is a 10 percent discount. What’s a 10 percent discount going to do on $300 per month?”
Recreational consumers and marijuana entrepreneurs urged the CCC to press ahead with implementing home delivery and allowing people to consume marijuana in designated establishments similar to cigar bars. The CCC initially drafted regulations to allow so-called social consumption and delivery, but put the issues on the back burner after pushback last year from Gov. Charlie Baker.
Sydney Snow, community affairs manager for Eaze Solutions, a technology platform that connects consumers and on-demand marijuana delivery from retailers in California and Oregon, said allowing home delivery would allow the CCC to open the non-medical marijuana market up to more consumers while retail stores slowly come online.
“With fewer than a dozen licensed [retailers] in operation, thousands of eligible adults are currently unable to participate in the legal market without committing several hours to do so. For those with mobility challenges or without a car, access is even harder. Each day that goes by without legal delivery is not only an unnecessary restriction in access, but it’s also a loss in much needed tax revenue from legal sales,” Snow said. “Delivery can allow the license process to play out at the pace that is right for Massachusetts while offering cannabis to those who are eligible without causing undue burden on the operating dispensaries, customers and the surrounding communities.”
Andrew Mutty, who operates Four Twenty Industries and has applied for a microbusiness license from the CCC, called on the CCC to review applications from microbusiness on an expedited basis to help the small and local players in a market full of large corporations that do business in multiple states.
“There are only seven of us in a list of 200-something,” he said, referring to microbusiness applicants.
Mutty also said the commission needs to reconsider what it considers a “mature plant.” He said he’s been planning to have up to 5,000 square feet of “mature plants” growing at a time — equal to the limit for cultivators in the CCC’s lowest tier of production — but that any plant that has grown more than 10 inches would be considered mature under current CCC practices. The CCC’s regulations do not directly define a mature plant.
“I built my whole business plan and my whole endeavor based upon knowing that I could have 5,000 square feet of mature plants. In my mind, the plant is not mature until it shows sex,” he said. The 10-inch rule, he said, “automatically takes away from my 5,000 square feet of grow and now I’m looking at possibly having only 3,500 [square feet] for flowering.”
Mutty estimated that he “would lose” $750,000 to the current 10-inch definition that he would not forgo if the CCC defined a mature plant as one that can be determined to be a male or female plant.
The CCC, the members of which did not respond to questions or comments on Wednesday, is planning to release a draft of its new regulations in the coming weeks and will then hold public hearings around the state to gather more specific feedback, Chairman Steven Hoffman said Wednesday.
“We’re here to learn and we’re here to hear what you have on your mind,” Hoffman said. “We are looking at regulations that include both the existing adult-use regulations and any changes that we think are necessary to them, as well as the medical use regulations … we’re in the process of reviewing those.”
After a public comment period of four to six weeks, the commission will vote on a final set of regulations by June, he said.