Our Opinion: Balancing act ahead for cannabis group

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The people of Massachusetts have spoken, the Legislature has legislated, and now it's up to the newly constituted Cannabis Control Commission to shape and regulate what was once no more than a pipe dream into a fully-fledged recreational marijuana industry. As of last Friday — the deadline set in the new implementing law — the state treasurer, governor and attorney general had individually and collectively exercised their prerogatives by naming the five members of the CCC. There is a deep bench of business acumen and legal expertise among the members. The chairman, Steven Hoffman, a former partner in the financial consulting firm Bain and Company, fulfills the requirement that the chair have experience in "corporate management, finance or securities." Kay Doyle, an attorney and veteran of the state department of public health, is familiar with federal and state law relating to marijuana. State Senator Jennifer Flanagan is leaving the Senate to serve on the CCC, and Britte McBride, another attorney, has worked in the attorney general's office and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The third attorney rounding out the group is Shaleen Title, who worked on the Yes on 4 coalition and is a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and other pro-marijuana groups.

The group's credentials are solid, but significantly, out of the five commissioners, four were opposed to Question 4 last November — including Chairman Hoffman, whose powers are considerable — and only Ms. Title voted in favor. Ms. Flanagan campaigned actively against it.

The views of those commissioners who opposed legalization should ease the fears of many in the state that the legalization of recreational marijuana will lead to a rise in crime, addiction and traffic injuries and fatalities. The Legislature addressed those concerns to a large extent when it crafted the ballot referendum question into law, and the CCC members qualified to execute its specifics while anticipating loopholes and offering solutions.

The new body, however, would do well to recall and avoid the foot-dragging that followed implementation of the 2012 referendum to legalize medical marijuana. The initial roll-out was botched, largely because the rules favored Eastern Massachusetts applicants with political connections, and had to be rebooted. Last week, the opening of Canna Care Docs enables Berkshire County patients seeking this therapeutic alternative to be evaluated by physicians in Pittsfield nearly five years after it was backed by voters. There cannot be a repetition of this delay and the presence of so many opponents leads to concern that there will be yet more foot-dragging. While this is largely uncharted territory for Massachusetts, it is also one with economic potential for the Berkshires, in particular for farmers interested in the growing of marijuana.

The CCC must develop regulations on over 30 topics and accept licenses for retail, growing and manufacturing facilities, all to be accomplished by June of 2018. It will be a challenge to enforce the will of the majority while addressing concerns that many share — including undoubtedly many who voted in favor. It will require care and deliberation, but without a slow-walking of the process that could hamstring a promising industry.


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