Speakers at BCC hearing seek tweaks to state cannabis rules
PITTSFIELD — Keep the "little guy" in the running for revenues from the state's emerging cannabis industry.
That was a key message Monday when speakers critiqued draft regulations shaped by the 5-month-old Cannabis Control Commission. Two of the panel's members, Steven J. Hoffman and Kay Doyle, came to Berkshire Community College for the first of 10 public hearings across the state, kicking off a comment period that closes Feb. 15.
Nine speakers weighed in before an auditorium audience of about four dozen.
Hoffman assured speakers their views will be considered by the full commission, which has until early March to adjust draft rules it released in December.
The rules govern all aspects of the adult-use recreational marijuana trade, which voters approved Nov. 8, 2016.
"We're getting a lot of reasonable suggestions," Hoffman said later during a conversation with members of The Eagle's editorial board.
He said that while the commission hopes to see recreational sales begin July 1, he noted that start date is not required by law.
"It is more important to do it right than on time," Hoffman said.
Speakers urged the commission to keep costs reasonable for those seeking to enter the business.
One woman who testified also asked the panel to do all it can to prevent illicit use by teens.
'Do it right'
Donna Norman, of Otis, who hopes to open a retail outlet, asked commission members to consider the interests of small players like local farmers.
"We have an amazing opportunity to build an industry from the ground up, and do it right," she said. "We need big business out of this industry."
Norman warned that when towns restrict cannabis businesses, they open doors to the illegal "gray" market.
Zoning issues are decided locally, not by the state panel. Hoffman said later he shares concerns that the moratoriums being adopted by communities complicate the law's rollout.
Two Berkshire County men interested in growing cannabis urged the commission to keep costs as low as possible.
Dan Bergeron, of Lanesborough, co-owner of Gray Raven Farm, said security regulations in the draft rules can be costly — a point echoed by many.
Any company seeking to win a growing license as a cooperative, Bergeron said, should be a true co-op. "And not be big industry disguised as a co-op," he said.
Lawrence Davis-Hollander, of Sheffield, who seeks to grow cannabis with his partner, Ted Dobson, said he sees the proposed rules as "onerous and reactive."
"The smaller the farmer, the more costly it will be for them," Davis-Hollander said.
He said startup costs will be punishing for farmers. "Except perhaps rich farmers — and I don't know any."
If he is able to secure a growing license, Davis-Hollander said rules governing the transportation of cannabis may be overkill for his operation, noting that products would be driven roughly three miles in Sheffield.
"There will be a locked box in there," he said. "I don't know what else we need."
Any system that makes it hard for farmers to grow outdoors gives an unfair edge to industrial-scale indoor producers, he said.
Brandon Pollock, CEO of Theory Wellness, said one security measure in particular is expensive and could be adjusted in the rules.
Rather than require 24-hour camera surveillance every day of the week, which he said costs his own operation tens of thousands of dollars a year, the rule might allow motion-activated cameras.
"It would reduce their storage costs by an order of magnitude," Pollock said.
He said it is cumbersome to examine the voluminous digital record when looking into security incidents. Theory Wellness operates a medical marijuana growing facility in Bridgewater and two dispensaries, in Bridgewater and Great Barrington. It expects to apply for a license to sell to the recreational market.
Theory Wellness devotes an entire server room to hold data captured by the current surveillance required by the state Department of Public Health.
Chris Penaherrera, who works at Berkshire Hydroponics, said costly surveillance rules will impede small, local businesses.
He also questioned why it should be harder to get a license for an event featuring cannabis than it is to host one serving alcohol.
"The biggest thing is that it's not going to kill anybody," he said of cannabis. "It's really not harming communities."
Tim Kane drove to Pittsfield from his home in Northampton to ask that rules not needlessly burden people, like him, who want to seek licenses to manufacture cannabis products.
"The more regulations that you have, the more risk you have of bullying the little guy," Kane said. "We want this to be a local business."
Lucas Thayer, who works in apple sales in the town of Harvard, urged Hoffman and Doyle to lower applications fees, to as little as $10 for the smallest growers.
Thayer drew a laugh from police officers in the audience when he suggested authorities apologize to those arrested while marijuana possession was a crime.
He had another suggestion as well.
"People who had their pipes stolen. They might like to have them back," Thayer said.
After closing his remarks, he brought Fuji apples to the town commissioners.
Concern for teens
Ananda Timpane, executive director of the Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington, urged the commission to pay attention to health risks cannabis poses to young people, particularly teens.
"Cannabis use among very young adolescents and frequent use among teens and young adults disrupts brain development at an important developmental period," she said.
Timpane, who spoke on behalf of the Berkshire Youth Development Project, stressed the importance of controlling access to cannabis and of limiting the visibility of the drug through restrictions on marketing and advertising.
"If regulations pass as drafted," she said, "youth will see an increase in potential access, visibility and involuntary contact with marijuana."
She called for a fund to help prevent that.
Hoffman said all comments are reviewed by the commission, including those received by mail or email by 5 p.m. Feb. 15.
The more comments he and other commissioners get, he said, the better the outcome.
"We really do take everything quite seriously," he said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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