By Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service
BOSTON – Over a dozen amendments and hours of deliberation later, the House of Representatives authorized the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to oversee and regulate host community agreements (HCAs) signed between marijuana establishments and municipalities in Massachusetts Wednesday.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said several stakeholders were worried that the previous legislation wasn’t clear enough and wanted the law redrafted.
“I think today was meant strictly not so much to reopen the whole discussion or debate about marijuana sales,” he said. “But to clarify the powers that the Cannabis Control Commission has.”
HCAs are contracts that set the terms and conditions for a marijuana business to operate in a local community and are a necessary requirement in the licensing process eventually carried out by the CCC.
Since marijuana’s legalization in 2016, advocates and business owners have reportedly complained that HCAs were being used by municipal authorities to extort money from marijuana businesses seeking to set up shop.
The state law mandates that HCAs are only valid for five years. Additionally, a community impact fee paid to the municipality by a prospective business is capped at 3% of the establishment’s sales.
A 2019 report by the CCC said that the “flexibility of the language” of the law led to varying interpretations. While some HCAs asked for compulsory payments of community impact fees, some did not require any monetary compensation. Some set changing percentages up to 3% while others set an amount rather than a percentage of sales, arguing that the amount was lawful as long as it did not exceed 3%. A 2018 WBUR review of multiple HCAs corroborated the CCC’s report.
The CCC’s report suggested that the commission should be given “express authority” to review HCAs so they could ensure that marginalized business owners without capital were not impeded from running their businesses.
This report came out before Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II was arrested and charged for extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana businesses under the smokescreen of HCAs in September 2019.
“There is obviously an unfortunate situation in Fall River, but there has not been a sweeping, traumatic outburst of these sorts of problems,” said Rep. David Rogers, chairperson of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, about why the law hadn’t been proposed to be amended until now.
The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) released a letter challenging the bill and calling it an overreach that would “unwisely interfere with local authority.”
“Contracting between local governments and private entities is a long-established practice, and the changes reflected in this bill could have a long-term impact on the ability of municipalities to contract freely, even outside the marijuana industry,” read the letter.
The adopted bill will be introduced in the Senate later in this session.