Our Opinion: CCC seeks fairness in state pot rules

As the Bay State navigates its way into the uncharted waters of recreational marijuana regulation, a newly created board and its chairman are buffeted by winds from every point on the compass. In a visit to The Eagle on Monday, Steven Hoffman, chairman of the state's Cannabis Control Commission, emphasized that his job and that of the agency he heads is to stay on course and develop regulations to implement the new law legalizing recreational manufacturing, processing, storage, transport and use, and to do so as transparently and fairly as possible. His visit to the Berkshires was testament to his philosophy of openness — it was one of the preliminary stops on a 10-stop listening tour throughout the state welcoming input from all stakeholders and would-be stakeholders in the soon-to-be established industry.

Farmers in the Berkshires view marijuana as a potentially lucrative cash crop capable of revitalizing the county's agricultural sector, and members of the farming community made their wishes and concerns known on Monday to Mr. Hoffman at a public hearing at Berkshire Community College. Mr. Hoffman, who is an established figure in the corporate world, may not have firsthand knowledge of farming, but he has turned an attentive ear to concerns that big medical marijuana agribusinesses in the eastern part of the state are already muscling in on an industry that doesn't even exist yet. Indeed, as Mr. Hoffman told The Eagle, such businesses have the wherewithal to hire lobbyists to argue their case with the CCC, which they have done with vigor.

One mission of the CCC is to enable the economic benefits of marijuana production to permeate all segments of society; from the farmer who wants to keep permit fees and crop security costs as low as possible to helping marginal communities that, in the past, suffered more than their share of "justice" when sales and use of marijuana were crimes. There remain a host of hurdles large and small to deal with, among them the preservation of public safety, and preventing underage access. Another concern is the proliferation of communities that have passed moratoriums against marijuana sales to delay the law's enactment in their communities even though their populations voted in favor of legalization. This is antithetical to the establishment of a safe, tightly-regulated industry that would also bring revenue into state coffers while curbing or eliminating the illegal black market for pot..

The CCC was given a relatively short time to create an entire bureaucracy and body of regulations; already it is facing pressure by would-be marijuana growers to speed up the permitting process so they can get a jump on Massachusetts' relatively short growing season. "But that's not in the law, " Mr. Hoffman told The Eagle Monday. "I simply can't do it." On the other side, the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance Monday issued a laundry list of complaints about the CCC's regulations and urged it to revisit them. The group is opposed to marijuana use, and that ship has sailed. The CCC is making a point of addressing legitimate concerns raised by foes of the law.

In a landscape fraught with competing interests Mr. Hoffman's task is close to thankless. He is wise to emphasize that this is a work in progress regardless of deadlines. As he put it to The Eagle, "We'll keep working on it until we get it right."


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