New regulations aim to level the Marijuana playing field in Massachusetts
When marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts, Commonwealth leaders said it wasn't just big business that was going to profit, yet the promises that everyone would have an even chance at the now-billion-dollar industry have not materialized.
With that in mind, the state hopes that new guidelines will help even out the market.
In addition to reviewing the new draft regulations proposed by the Cannabis Control Commission, 5 Investigates toured a cannabis factory to get a better understanding of how a large-scale grow operation works.
Timothy Shaw, Chief Operating Officer for MariMed Inc., a multi-state operator, led the tour through the company's 70,000-square-foot facility in New Bedford, where they grow, extract, pack and process cannabis to sell.
"This is the room with all the different strains," Shaw said as he opened the door to the "mother room," which is where the cannabis company clones each mother plant to reproduce its genetic makeup.
According to Shaw, MariMed's New Bedford location houses 17 flower rooms and has over 50 different strains.
One thing that was apparent throughout the tour — it's not cheap to run an indoor farm and processing plant.
Shaw said just keeping the lights on "costs more than $100,000 a month."
"It's substantial. Not to get into exactly how much it costs you, but it's tens of millions of dollars to build a facility, which isn't conducive to just anybody walking, trying to get it."
The cost is high, but so is the potential reward.
As of this report, marijuana sales in Massachusetts are at nearly $5 billion.
This is where the new regulations from the Cannabis Control Commission come in. New regulations that were proposed by the CCC are aimed at keeping small businesses and business owners of color from being boxed out of the market.
"We want to be inclusive of people of color, people from disproportionately impacted areas — women," Ava Concepcion, Commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission, said.
Concepcion said to help increase equity for adult and medical marijuana use, the new regulations take control of local host agreements between cities and towns and marijuana businesses, allow for social consumption sites, and remove barriers to entry for people with criminal records.
Concepcion said it is important to continue taking steps to open doors for and solidify a place in the cannabis market for people who were disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.
"Before Chapter 180, if you had certain records, you cannot work in the cannabis industry. And that was counterintuitive to the overall intent," Concepcion said.
Another barrier that is addressed in the regulations is access to capital.
"I think that capital is really difficult to come by, and I think that the municipal process has made equity so difficult to achieve, but now the commission is starting to address that," Shaleen Title, a former member of the Cannabis Control Commission, said.
Title said the new regulations are focused on making sure cities and towns create a clear and fair playing field for all cannabis businesses.
"One of the biggest problems that we had in the early years was that cities and towns were often not being fair to licensees that were part of the equity program or that they were smaller businesses," Title said. "You're now going to be treated fairly by a city or town. You're going to have transparent access to what the process is. You can't be charged a fee that is essentially bribery, which is what we saw early on."
Communities would be required to use what is essentially a "playbook" to execute host agreements with all cannabis businesses or have their own guidelines approved by the state.
The goal is to increase equity in the industry.
"We understand how difficult it is to get into this space and think it's important for everybody to have an opportunity to play in this industry," Shaw said.
Members of the public have until October to provide comments and feedback on the CCC's draft regulations.
The Commission hopes to publicize the final regulations in November.