Following reports earlier in the week indicating potential major delays in the implementation of a new hemp law -- that would allow hemp farmers and producers licensed through the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to sell their approved hemp products to Cannabis Control Commission (CCC)-licensed companies, including lucrative hemp extracts that could be incorporated into other products by a CCC licensee -- local hemp farmers were in a state of panic.
Their ranks, according to a public records request obtained by one local farmer, had dwindled to under 20 over the past year.
That number, say hemp farm advocates, represents a broken MDAR system that has long neglected their ranks and threatened the very existence of hemp farming in Massachusetts.
Those farmers saw hope though, in the passage of that hemp amendment by lawmakers on Beacon Hill in December of 2020 and they worried an April 9th memo from CCC legal counsel Christine Baily spelled months (if not years) of delays before that law would become a reality (the law needs to be made into a "regulation" by the Cannabis Control Commission before it is considered officially active).
Speaking on Friday afternoon, however, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven J. Hoffman indicated that the Agency is willing to take whatever steps may be necessary, including a potential regulatory revision on the limited issue of just new hemp rules, to make the changes needed to bring the new law into reality.
Recognizing the plight of hemp farmers in the State, and calling the implementation of the new hemp law "a really important issue" that the Agency is "willing to put all of its energy into getting done well and quickly", the Chairman explained that the Agency could use something called a "regulatory guidance document" to make at least some of the changes needed to implement the new hemp law.
"For the low-hanging fruit [Hoffman clarified this referred to allowing CCC operators to sell 'consumer ready hemp products' such as hemp seed, hemp seed oil, and FDA compliant cosmetic products], I am hopeful, although I will rely on further guidance from our legal staff, that we can do that through [a] guidance [document]", said Hoffman.
For the "higher-hanging fruit", said the Chairman, the Commission would even consider opening a new round of regulatory updates (a process that is far longer and more complex than a guidance document, but whose length can be shortened if only a single issue is considered) focused specifically on the issue of hemp;
"We'll open the regulations if we need to...very narrowly just to focus on this hemp issue, and we'll go through that regulatory process...as quickly as we can."
"I really appreciate the frustration on the part of hemp farmers" Hoffman went on, "[w]e are committed to do the right thing and to do it as quick as possible."
That news left local hemp advocates, including those who had helped to pass the law to begin with, in a state of exaltation.
John Nathan, owner of Bay State Hemp Company and a guest on my hemp-themed pre-show panel before today's CCC meeting, was thrilled to hear the Chairman's comments;
“This news is a breath of fresh air to the struggling hemp industry. Implementation provides an avenue for real revenue for Massachusetts small farmers and expands patient access to the whole plant. I am relieved to have some good news for the farmers we work with”, he told me.
The hemp industry will have to wait another four weeks before getting the next update: CCC legal staff, at the May Commission meeting, are scheduled to present options to the Commissioners related to that "regulatory guidance document" for the "low-hanging fruit" issues.
If that advice from staff is positive, implementation of at least part of that hemp law could come as soon as the next 2-3 months (thus allowing at least some MDAR 'consumer ready products' to be sold at CCC regulated companies), followed by another process (at least 4-6 months in length) should a regulatory revision take place specifically related to the more complex issues in the hemp law (in particular MDAR companies selling extract to CCC companies, to be processed and sold by said CCC company).
One major road block? A company, in a single location, cannot be simultaneously licensed by both MDAR and the CCC.
A potential solution? A license waiver.
The issue? MDAR would need to be involved in that waiver, and the CCC has no control or authority to direct MDAR to do so (hence the need for interagency negotiations).
Stay tuned for next month's update for, hopefully, more clarity on this issue.
DELIVERY OPERATOR HINT?
In other news, the Chairman also hinted at a potential roll out of more information related to the much heralded Delivery Operator license in the coming weeks.
"We intend to have the [delivery-operator] application available by the spring, and we're already in the spring, so hopefully within a relatively short period of time. We are working very hard on that issue...and, I think, we're on the same schedule we had promised since day one." said Hoffman.
That news, while obviously somewhat vague, will no doubt catch the ears of delivery-operator applicants.
Two such delivery-operator companies already have Host Community Agreements, including Devin Alexander from Rolling Releaf, and another such operator, The Emerald Turtle run by Aaron and Janelle Goines, is scheduled to have their HCA voted on by the Wareham Select Board on April 20th at 7:00pm.
Acting President of the Massachusetts Cannabis Association for Delivery (MCAD), Aaron Goines, speaking to me after Friday's hearing said;
"I think its very encouraging that the CCC is remaining on track and that the delivery operator application should become available this spring. This has been long awaited and anticipated, and many applicants are exhausting personal resources to maintain property, retain lawyers, get through the HCA process and things of that nature."
Said Goines when asked what would be the single most important thing the Commission could do heading into their May monthly public meeting, "At the very minimum, getting pre-certification done before May is crucial."
Delivery operator applicants like Goines, however, worry that the longer this process takes to play out the more of a head start cannabis courier operations will have over the market.
He explains, "many social equity delivery operator applicants have spilled their hearts, souls and personal finances into obtaining their HCA's, HCA's which will all be for naught if the Commission does not act quickly to make public the delivery operator application in full within the next 2-3 months."
Goines tells me, "the concern has always been that we would like to have the two license types be introduced into the market place as close together as possible to create a fair and level playing field, as many of the couriers will be using the customer database of existing dispensaries while, on the other hand, delivery operators will have to generate their customer base organically."
This causes a problem, Goines says, because, "if the goal is to create a fair and level playing field, in which competition defines the marketplace, then the further apart the two licenses launch the more difficult that goal becomes to obtain."
I will hopefully have more to report on the delivery operator license type in early May.