Can Commonwealth Creep Closer To Cannabis Commerce?
Recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts have been in a holding pattern for months.
Now that the state's fiscal year is three months behind in weed revenues, is the plan still to get cannabis sales up and running? Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about it.
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It is highly likely this week, we think, that the Cannabis Control Commission will probably issue some final licenses for retail pot shops to open after they've been doing some of the final inspection work needed at some of the businesses that were pretty much ready to go. So we could be almost there, I would say.
Carrie Healy, NEPR: So do you get the sense in covering those meetings that any state marijuana regulators are actually feeling that mounting pressure to really actually get the product on store shelves, as nearby states who also have pretty foliage and tourist attractions could actually muscle Massachusetts out of a weed tourist destination industry?
They are, and they aren't. I think they're certainly aware of the outside pressure. They're aware of the anticipation and the desire to not look like they're slow-walking this, or delaying this, in any way, given the political ramifications of that. But they also want to make sure that they get this right, because the worst thing that they could do would be to roll this out and have something go horribly wrong.
You mentioned that there was some money in the budget -- I think it was maybe just north of $60 million that they were counting on in revenue from sales to balance the budget from cannabis and marijuana products. This has fallen behind. They don't want to fall too far behind. I mean, some of that could probably be made up, depending on how fast the stores open. But that is also a consideration.
Last week, the chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission stepped down. Stephen Crosby said he didn't want to be a distraction for the Commission as it prepares to weigh the results of an investigation into Wynn Resorts, which holds that Boston-area casino license. So when do we expect Governor Baker to pick a new permanent chair for the Commission?
I'm not sure that we've heard the full story of this yet. I mean, it was very interesting, kind of a surprise that Chairman Crosby would step down. He, of course, has been in charge since expanded gaming got off the ground in Massachusetts. He was being accused of being biased on both sides of the issue when it comes to reviewing the Wynn license. And he chose to remove himself.
We also know that he had some interest in being the new chancellor of UMass Boston. So it wasn't that he didn't have an eye on a possible exit from the Gaming Commission at some point, so maybe he just felt that this was a good time to step aside.
The administration now has to consider what direction they want to go for who is going to chair this, potentially for a good, long time and oversee the opening of the big Everett Wynn casino -- assuming that gets the green light -- or oversee the process of deconstructing that whole Wynn casino, if they pull the license, and figuring out what to do with the property and what to do in eastern Massachusetts.
So either way, it will be a huge job. The governor had suggested in the statement just prior to Crosby's decision being announced, that he should consider recusing himself. So, I think, maybe they were beginning to think about this. But it does not seem -- from our conversations with the administration -- that they were really prepared for Steve Crosby to step away fully from this. So, I anticipate that it will probably take some time for them to vet some candidates for the new chairman role and install someone.
That Commission's been largely deferential to the casino industry, as we saw in all the accolades that they showered on MGM Springfield. Is it your expectation that a new commissioner would fit that mold, or is someone going to be brought in to stir things up?
I'm not sure. I think they'll probably have to take into consideration the fact that when the Commission was named in the first placee -- and keep in mind that the law does stipulate some of the qualifications that these commissioners must have. There has to be some law enforcement background, and some accounting background. Not every commissioner has the same resume, but they have to fit into these sort-of boxes.
So they're also going to be looking for someone not to do the start-up phase of the casino work, since that has already been done, and the procedures are in place, and the Commission is established, and up and running with its policies. But someone to oversee the growth and expansion of casinos, and making sure that they run properly -- so someone with the management experience, and someone maybe with the familiarity of how these things run, once they're built, and the construction phase is over. So I think all of that could come into play.