How Lucrative Should Marijuana Sales Be For Massachusetts Cities And Towns?

Jan 14, 2019

Massachusetts cities and towns are negotiating some big money for marijuana businesses. Some regulators say it's perhaps too much money. 

For our quick look at the week ahead in politics and government, Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us.

The first recreational marijuana shop in the Berkshires just opened Friday in Great Barrington. There's another one opening Tuesday in Pittsfield. Like all pot shops, they had to craft big-money deals with these towns.

And all that money in these host community agreements has caused some to question the legality of the deals, and whether these towns are demanding so much that it's going to price a lot of folks out of the industry.

Sam Hudzik, NEPR: Can you tell us about the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission's plan for this?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: After the voters approved legal marijuana in 2016, the legislature spent quite a lot of time in 2017 looking at that ballot law, and re-crafting it. Part of the deal was that people who want to open these shops have to sign host community agreements before they can proceed with the licensing process.

And we now have stores opening, but there is some concern that it has been slower than it needed to be, because some communities are holding out, and trying to exact more lucrative deals for themselves, a better share of the profits from these pot shops in order to allow them to open in their towns.

The Cannabis Control Commission, hearing these concerns, is saying that they don't really have the authority to step in and oversee these — that the legislature never explicitly gave them this power. So they're voting to kick it back to the legislature, and maybe ask them to take another look at it.

It remains to be seen what the legislature will do. The state rep who worked on the overhaul of the legal marijuana bill has said the CCC has more than its share of authority to deal with this, but there are others who may want to resolve this in a cleaner fashion.

Let's turn to public records. Massachusetts public records law gives reporters and nonprofit watchdogs headaches because there are so many exemptions in it. A state commission that was supposed to look into changes appears to have come up empty for a second year in a row. What's going on there?

The House and the Senate — maybe not shockingly, given their recent history — couldn't get on the same page. The issue of whether or not to open the legislature up to the public records law has always been a bit of a thorny question, especially when you have legislators essentially deciding this for themselves, whether or not they should be subject to more scrutiny. But another deadline came and went, and this commission that was supposed to put forward recommendations couldn't reach an agreement.

The Senate members of this commission filed their own sort-of report. But the House members didn't join, and now the question becomes: does the legislature, in a new year, reconstitute this commission, and again give them more time to try and strike a deal? Do they move ahead, or do they just kind of table the discussion for now?

You wrote about a climate bill that Massachusetts lawmakers are planning to file this week. What's in the bill, and is it going to get traction?

We don't yet know what's in the bill, but we do have some idea of where Senator Marc Pacheco might be going. As the chair of the global warming and climate change committee, he sponsored a hearing in December where he brought in scientists to talk about the new national climate assessment reports that were fairly dire.

Scientists at that committee were recommending that the state really needs to speed up its emission reduction programs. Senator Pacheco and others appear to be latching onto that idea.

The 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act required the state to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. It appears this bill would up that to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which is what the scientific community is recommending. Marc Pacheco has been a leader on this — and Rep. Ruth Balser, on the House side, stepped forward with Senator Pacheco — and they put out a statement last week that was signed by 81 lawmakers, including 45 House members, committing to this kind of big climate initiative.

We'll keep an eye on that. This week, the Massachusetts Republican Party plans to pick a new chairperson. Is there a favorite heading into that vote?

My understanding is the favorite is still Brent Anderson, the Mass. GOP treasurer. But he is facing opposition from two members of the legislature, or I should say, one member and one former member — Rep. Peter Durant and former member Jim Lyons, who lost his re-election bid this year, were both running.

The governor, interestingly, has stayed out of this race, but I've talked with people close to him, and they say they believe that Anderson has a leg up, and they don't want to get involved in this race just yet. But it should all be resolved after this week, and the party can move forward, and try and figure out how to have a more successful election cycle down-ballot, and maybe make some gains not just at the top of the ticket in the governor's office.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.