On September 1, the Cannabis Control Commission (Commission) celebrated its fifth anniversary, marking five years since the appointment of the inaugural Commission on September 1, 2017. In that time, the regulatory body built a new independent Commission and legal industry from the ground up; the agency now has nearly 90 employees and a new slate of Commissioners, including the September 1 appointment of Chair Shannon O’Brien, with 434 adult-use and 98 medical-use licensees operating across the Commonwealth and over 30,000 registered agents working in the regulated industry.
“I am incredibly proud of our Commissioners and staff, past and present, whose contributions over the last five years have created the agency you see today. We accomplished building a brand-new agency while at the same time regulating a marketplace that is not new to Massachusetts but is safer and more effective thanks to our collective efforts,” said Executive Director Shawn Collins. “We have made great strides towards our equity mission as an agency and industry, but we all acknowledge there is more to do. We are not intimidated by the challenging and important work that remains, and I look forward to seeing the progress we achieve in the next five years.”
On November 8, 2016, Ballot Question 4 “Legalize Marijuana” passed with 53.6% of the vote in the Commonwealth. At that time, Massachusetts joined seven other states, plus the District of Columbia, that had legalized marijuana for adult use (also known as recreational use). That number has since increased to 18 states as well as some territories. The resulting law in Massachusetts, Chapter 334 of the Acts of 2016, The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, which was amended by Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017, An Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana, created the Commission and delegated oversight of the adult-use cannabis program to the regulatory body.
On August 11, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law Chapter 180 of the Acts of 2022, An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry, a major reform bill enhancing provisions within the initial statute, after several years of advocacy by Commission members past and present. In August 2021, Commissioners voted to implement a process for Legislative and Executive Branch outreach and then voted unanimously to support a state-administered fund comprised of public and private resources offering zero- or low-interest loans or grants to equity applicants and licensees. Commissioners also supported a technical change allowing social consumption as well as greater authority to regulate host community agreements.
Since Massachusetts’ first two Marijuana Retailers opened in 2018, 235 more have received notices from the Commission to commence operations statewide and are in the process of opening. Another 166 Marijuana Retailers with provisional or final license approval are completing the Commission’s inspection and compliance procedures towards that end. In total, the Commission has licensed 1,155 Marijuana Establishments, including Cultivators, Product Manufacturers, Retailers, Independent Testing Laboratories, Microbusinesses, Marijuana Couriers, and more.
In addition to regulating the adult-use cannabis industry, the Commission has overseen the Medical Use of Marijuana Program (Program) since it was transferred from the Department of Public Health in December of 2018 as required under Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017. The Program has grown from approximately 58,000 patients to almost 100,000 patients, as the agency has implemented several enhancements since assuming Program oversight. The Commission has moved both the medical program and license application for Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MTCs) to the Medical Use of Marijuana Program Online System (MMJOS) and Massachusetts Cannabis Industry Portal (MassCIP) and reduced MTC license application fees from $31,500 to $3,500. The Commission also eliminated patient registration and renewal fees, introduced an Initial Access certification process for Patients and Caregivers to streamline access to medicine, expanded the use of Telehealth certification during the COVID-19 state of emergency, and provided digital applications for interested physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to join the Program, among other updates.
In five years, the agency established two new Commission offices, including a Boston satellite and the first state agency headquarters to ever be established in Worcester—at Union Station. The Commission’s staff has increased to 89 employees, with continued expansions planned in each department. Of note are the Licensing, Enforcement, and Investigations and Compliance teams, which have 42 staff members total and are responsible for reviewing license applications, completing inspections, and recommending new businesses for Commission approval. The Commission’s overall growth continues to contribute to the increased number of entities commencing operations in Massachusetts.
Maintaining public health, safety, and welfare is a central pillar of both the Commission’s work and a safe cannabis industry, beginning with ensuring licensee compliance with agency regulations. To that end, the Commission has completed investigations and taken enforcement actions against licensees to ensure they regain compliance related to the illegal use of pesticides, conspiracy to evade Commonwealth licensing and drug laws, failure to disclose changes of ownership, and attempts to evade licensing cap limits in Massachusetts statute.
In the fall of 2019, the Commission executed multiple administrative orders to address Massachusetts’ Vaping State of Emergency and related actions, including initial quarantine of all marijuana products and devices that relied on vaporization or aerosolization; surveying all licensees to understand the ingredients and sources of additives used in marijuana products manufactured in Massachusetts; publishing multiple sets of testing results pertaining to licensed vapes available for sale in Massachusetts, which cleared those products of the use of Vitamin E acetate, considered the primary contaminant of concern; and new packaging, labeling, and testing requirements, including testing of finished vaping products to protect consumers against Vitamin E acetate, heavy metals, and other hazardous additives and contaminants.
Additionally, the Commission launched its Product Catalog – considered the first of its kind in the nation – in April 2021, providing a comprehensive database of legal marijuana products that are sold through the Commonwealth’s licensed Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers and Marijuana Establishments. The Product Catalog was designed to increase the public’s awareness of the regulated supply chain in Massachusetts and assist engaged stakeholders, such as school administrators, public safety officials, medical professionals, and parents, with identifying the source of legally produced cannabis merchandise.
Importantly, the Commission has also become a trusted resource for cannabis policy research, data, and guidance—bringing diverse stakeholders together to comprehensively conduct and disseminate research to inform safe and equitable cannabis policy. To satisfy the Commission’s legislative research mandate and add to the collective knowledge of cannabis policy research, the Commission has published 12 research reports and 14 scientific manuscripts. The research team has also given 16 presentations at national scientific meetings as well as another 15 guest lectures. Results from the most current research report, entitled, Cannabis Use Trends in Massachusetts, Findings from the International Cannabis Policy Study (ICPS), 2019-2020 indicate that illicit market activity has decreased as the legal market continues to saturate across the Commonwealth. ICPS is ongoing, and the Commission will continue to analyze and publish new studies on this data. Commission reports are available for the public’s review.
Other efforts to ensure public health and safety include rolling out bulletins, executive orders, and safety measures to assist licensees with operations under the COVID-19 state of emergency. These include telehealth certification of patients by Certified Health Care Providers, required social distancing, cleaning, and sanitation measures in accordance with Baker Administration and CDC protocols, authorization of certain operations that supported the medical supply chain while adult-use licensees remained closed during Phase 1; and curbside and contactless operations (e.g., mobile ordering, encouraged medical delivery services) to prevent the virus’ spread.
Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to mandate equity in its legal cannabis industry, and the Commission remains fully committed to its mission of encouraging and enabling full participation within the marijuana industry from individuals and communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. The Commission’s Social Equity Program (SEP), which was the first statewide program of its kind in the nation and recently codified into state law, has accepted 872 participants into the program across three cohorts. Cohort III is the largest class to date with 446 participants, of which approximately 65% self-identify as Black, African American, Hispanic, or Latino descent.
As of the agency’s September public meeting, the Commission has authorized 22 SEP Participants, 15 Economic Empowerment Applicants (EEAs), and 43 Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) to commence operations. Among the three priority review categories, an additional 13 applicants have been approved for final licensure, and 191 were approved for provisional licensure. In its first five years, the agency established three delivery license types, including Marijuana Delivery Courier, Marijuana Delivery Operator, and Microbusiness with Delivery Endorsements, which are exclusively available to SEP Participants and EEAs. The exclusivity period, which lasts for a minimum of 36 months, began on April 1, 2022, when the first Marijuana Delivery Operator received its notice to commence operations.
The Commission continues to engage communities across the Commonwealth through different events. Most recently, the agency partnered with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce – City Awake (City Awake) to host a virtual event in September titled Intersection of Cannabis and Equity designed to inspire the diverse group of Millennials from the Greater Boston area through programming, presentations, and workshops, hearing from numerous experts and voices from the region’s business, civic, and local communities.
The agency has also taken steps to develop, publish, and update Guidance Documents over time, including its Guidance on Diversity Plans, which was updated last year to further assist applicants and licensees in meeting the requirement to outline goals, programs, and measurements for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the cannabis industry. In an additional effort to support industry inclusion, the Commission translated its adult-use and medical-use regulations into Spanish and Portuguese, which are accessible on the Commission’s website.
To ensure its mission is pursued both inside and outside of the Commission, the agency now supports an Access and Equity Workgroup as well as Commission Voices. Also, to that end, the Commission’s current workforce is comprised of 65% women and 35% Persons of Color. In Management, which includes Commissioners, the Executive Director, Department Heads, and Senior Staff, 65% are women and 47% are Persons of Color. In calendar year 2022, 89% of promotions were awarded to women and Persons of Color.
A core tenet of the Commission’s work is developing regulations, policies, and programs that facilitate an effective legal cannabis industry. The agency has completed three rounds of regulatory drafting, starting with the first adult-use regulations promulgated in 2018, and at its April 2022 public meeting approved a policy and regulatory review process reflecting the cumulative staff knowledge and experience gathered through prior rounds. The Commission also created processes for changes of ownership, location, and name and reduced the wait for application review from months to days. Additionally, the agency has used its expertise to engage with professional groups and academic institutions focused on the developing area of cannabis law, advance the equity mission by creating an informal hearing process to allow applicants to address suitability issues, and support the agency’s procurement and contract development process which include agreements that enabled the building of MassCIP and Metrc for seed-to-sale tracking, among other key efforts that ensure the Commission’s regulation of the legal industry is effective.
Over five years, the Commission made significant technology investments that have enabled the nearly 90-person agency to work remotely since March 2020 (including the completion of virtual public meetings) and enhanced constituent engagement with the agency. The Commission’s Open Data Platform offers information to the public about applications and licenses, agent registrations and ownership, and sales and product distribution, as well as medical sales data which was added last year. The Commission introduced a new and improved website at MassCannabisControl.com, where it has a Municipal Zoning Tracker that captures where cities and towns are with the implementation of adult-use cannabis legalization based on information that we receive from local officials, in addition to a Find a Retailer locator of all licensed Marijuana Retailers and dispensing Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.
Another measurement of the agency’s regulatory efficacy is industry growth across several major sales milestones. On October 30, 2020, adult-use Marijuana Retailers in Massachusetts surpassed $1 billion in gross sales since the first two adult-use retail stores on the East Coast opened for business on November 20, 2018. Adult-use Retailers reached the $2 billion gross sales milestone on August 31, 2021, and then surpassed $3 billion in gross sales only eight months later on May 14, 2022. 2021 was the first year that Marijuana Retailers generated more than one billion dollars in gross sales in a single calendar year, marking the industry’s substantial growth.
Through FY22, the Commission has returned more than $78 million in non-tax revenue to the Commonwealth, through sources such as application, license, and agent fees, including $2.3 million as the result of penalties and fines. Notably, UMass Amherst published the results of a poll in November 2021 that further demonstrates the maturation of the Commonwealth’s legal adult-use marketplace: 61% of Massachusetts residents said they feel legalization has had a positive impact on the state.
Additional information about the Commission’s mission and ongoing work is available by visiting MassCannabisControl.com, by contacting the Commission by phone (774-415-0200) or email (Commission@CCCMass.Com), or following the agency on Facebook and Twitter.
To celebrate the Cannabis Control Commission’s fifth birthday, Commissioners and the Executive Director shared a special anniversary message.