Medical cannabis patients and recreational consumers gave state regulators a lot to consider as the Cannabis Control Commission begins this spring, to revise and republish the regulations regarding both medical and non-medical cannabis businesses.
The regulatory review comes about three months after the Cannabis Control Commission assumed control of the state’s medical cannabis program as it continues to establish the anti inflammatory marijuana sector in Massachusetts. Commissioners expect to promulgate new sets of regulations by June.
In Boston on Wednesday, patients in the medical cannabis program urged the commission to eliminate the annual $50 fee to renew a patient card, to make the patient registration process simpler and more effective, and also to remove the requirement that medical dispensaries be “vertically integrated,” meaning they must process and grow all of the bud they sell.
“End the $50 fee for all patients. Patients are already paying out of pocket to be certified by their physician. The commission could absorb the cost associated with doing the right thing here for individuals,” Jeremiah McKinnon, a board member of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), said.
Frank Shaw, a 66-year-old medical cannabis patient, said that he recently had an “absurd and improper” experience trying to renew his individual registration card after the CCC took control of their medical plan in December.
“My renewal only took 26 days to be processed from the commission. My card has been expired for 11 days, which meant I couldn’t go to a dispensary to receive my medication,” he said. “Please repair the registration process so patients like me do not face delays in receiving our medication… the commission cannot wait any more to implement electronic certification and temporary registration.”
Shaw and other medical cannabis patients, in addition to officers of the MPAA, also called about the CCC to fortify the regulation which requires documented medical dispensaries to possess “a plan to provide reduced cost or free medical cannabis to patients with documented verified financial hardship”
Several patients stated the normal reduction provided to patients with financial hardship — described in the regulations as any patient that receives Mass Health benefits or Supplemental Security Income, or whose income doesn’t 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 approximately $300 a month in temporary disability benefits and cannot afford to cover regulated medical marijuana without a much more significant reduction.
“I go off of donations. That means I really don’t know if my medicine has been tested, I do not know where it’s coming out, I do not understand where I’m getting it next,” she said. “Somebody in the position I’m in at this time, we’re supposed to receive free cannabis. We’re supposed to walk into a dispensary, have our recommendation and be able to acquire a certain amount of free cannabis in order to help us be able to endure every month. Unfortunately, what I am seeing is a 10 percent reduction. What’s a 10 percent discount going to perform on $300 per month?”
Recreational consumers and marijuana entrepreneurs urged that the CCC to press forward with implementing home delivery and enabling individuals to consume marijuana in designated establishments similar to cigar bars. The CCC originally hailed regulations to allow so-called societal intake and shipping, but put the issues on the back burner after pushback this past year by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Some supporters state allowing home delivery might permit the CCC to open the non-medical cannabis market up to more consumers while retail shops gradually begin to come online.
With fewer than a dozen accredited [merchants] in operation, tens of thousands of eligible adults are unable to participate in the legal marketplace without committing a few hours to do so. For anyone with mobility challenges or without a car, access is much harder. Each day that goes by without legal delivery is not simply an unnecessary limitation in accessibility, but it is also a reduction in much needed tax revenue from authorized sales. Delivery may allow the permit process to play out in the pace that is ideal for Massachusetts while offering cannabis to individuals that are qualified without causing undue burden on the operating dispensaries, customers as well as the surrounding communities.
Andrew Mutty, who operates Four Twenty Industries and has applied for a microbusiness license from the CCC, called upon the CCC to review applications from microbusiness on an expedited basis to help the small and local players in a market filled with large corporations who do business in many states.
“There are only seven of us in a listing of 200-something,” he said, referring to microbusiness applicants.
Mutty also said the commission needs to reconsider what it considers a “plant“. He said he has been likely to have around 5,000 square feet of “mature plants” growing at a time — equal to the limit for cultivators at the CCC’s lowest tier of manufacturing — but that any plant that has increased more than 10 inches would be considered older under current CCC practices. The CCC’s regulations do not directly establish a plant.
“I built my whole business program and my whole project based upon understanding that I could have 5,000 square feet of older plants. In my head, the plant isn’t mature until it shows its 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 present 10-inch definition he wouldn’t forgo whether the CCC defined a mature plant as a person which may be ascertained for a male or female plant.
The CCC, the members of whom didn’t respond to questions or comments on Wednesday, will launch a draft of its regulations in the forthcoming weeks and will then hold public hearings around the state to gather more specific feedback, Chairman Steven Hoffman said Wednesday.
“We’re here to understand and we are here to hear exactly what you have in mind,” Hoffman said. “We are looking at regulations that comprise the existing adult-use regulations and some changes that we think are necessary to them, as well as the medical usage regulations… we’re in the process of reviewing those.”
Following a public comment period of four to six months, the commission will vote on a final set of regulations by June, he said.