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Head Of Mass. Cannabis Panel Looks Ahead To 'Thoughtful Conversations'

Marijuana regulators in Massachusetts are inching closer to finalizing regulations for the state's new industry. 

The next step is a series of public hearings across the state, beginning Monday in Pittsfield and Holyoke. Steve Hoffman, chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, talked with NEPR about what we can expect.

Kari Njiiri, NEPR: Some of the regulations your commission proposed have faced pushback. You allow for marijuana delivery services and the sale and possible use of the drug at yoga studios and restaurants. The Boston Globe reports that some medical marijuana dispensaries say that could lead to driving under the influence, and draw attention from federal prosecutors, as the drug is still illegal at the federal level. What's your response to those concerns?

Steve Hoffman, Cannabis Control Commission: I very much recognize that there are strong points of view on all sides of this, and we absolutely intend to listen to those points of view, take them under advisement, and have very thoughtful conversations about whether we need to revise any of the draft regulations that we promulgated in December.

I want to ask you about comments from Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling. He said his office is going to focus on opioids, but refuses to guarantee he won't prosecute people or businesses involved in the state's legal marijuana industry. What's the latest in your conversations with the U.S. Attorney on this?

We have had no conversations with the U.S. Attorney on this.

As we noted, I think two weeks ago, we reached out at a really informal level to his office, and the response was that they didn't think it was appropriate to have conversations. So we have had no conversations with the U.S. attorney's office.

You're trying to get stores licensed and set up by July. But some towns and cities have banned retail marijuana stores within their borders--or set up temporary moratoriums. Are you concerned the illegal marijuana business will continue to prosper in these places, where it's harder for residents to access the legal stores?

I think that's a reasonable assumption. There is an illegal industry in this state. There has been for a long time, and I certainly think that one of the primary objectives of the law, and of our commission, is to minimize, if not eliminate, the illicit market.

Clearly, the less accessible the regulated market is, the more opportunity there is for the illicit market to flourish. So that's absolutely a concern.

Another wrinkle in this is unregulated services that sell people other products -- like juice or T-shirts -- at jacked-up prices, and then gift them the marijuana. They're operating in a legal gray area. Is this a problem, and if so, does the commission plan to address this?

First of all, I think it's a problem. Second of all -- this is probably gonna sound like copping out -- I think it is a serious problem, but it's not a problem that the commission can address. What our role is, is to license, regulate and enforce the regulations of licensed establishments in the marijuana industry. People that sell T-shirts are not part of the group of companies that we're allowed to license or regulate.

These public hearings begin Monday.


Will you be at each meeting, or other commissioners? Or­ are you just sending staff?

No, no. Commissioners will be at each meeting, but we're going to divide and conquer, just because we have 10 of these around the state. We can't possibly get them done if all five of us go to all the meetings.

There will be two commissioners at each of the meetings starting on Monday, as you mentioned, in Pittsfield, and Commissioner Doyle and myself will be there, and in Holyoke on Monday.

And by the way, since I'm going to be out in Pittsfield at 8:30 on Monday morning, I'm wondering if somebody can recommend a good sports bar to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night in Pittsfield.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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