Pot is Hot Topic

As the deadline looms for applications for the sale of adult use of marijuana, there was some urgency in the discussion at the Marion Board of Health’s meeting on January 23 regarding the imminent Adult Use of Marijuana regulations and their public health implications.

Leading the discussion was Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney and director of the Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB). Sbarra provided the board with a draft document outlining the public health issues within the proposed Adult Use of Marijuana regulations, drafted by the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), that were released in late December.

There is currently a Working Group, made up of large and small municipalities as well as rural towns, that is charged with developing comments on the regulations for the CCC.

The Working Group will also be developing model regulations for municipalities to use in developing their local regulations for Adult Use of Marijuana.

Sbarra noted that the current draft regulations are in conflict with the Smoke Free Workplace law, which prohibits smoking in virtually all enclosed workplaces in the Commonwealth.

Smoking is defined as anything that is lighted, combusted, and inhaled, and unless cannabis was eaten, it would be prohibited under this regulation. The Smoke Free Workplace law would need to be amended to allow the smoking of cannabis.

The proposed regulation contemplates a “primary or mixed-use social consumption establishment” at which a consumer could purchase and use marijuana. Sbarra suggested that this could mean restaurants would have cannabis smoking sections and asked the board, “Are we going back to a designated [smoking] area as part of its enterprise a cannabis smoking area, with the second-hand smoke exposure?”

Board member Elizabeth Dunn asked why the CCC would draft conflicting regulations, and Sbarra surmised that the CCC may have thought this regulation would fit into the tobacco permit exemption, which she believes it does not. Additionally, vaping of cannabis would be illegal if the Omnibus tobacco bill, which adds vaping to the Smoke Free Workplace law, is passed.

Sbarra spoke at length about marijuana sales, specifically the conflict with the regulation of the sale of marijuana accessories. She suggested that the way marijuana accessories are defined puts them in direct conflict with the definition of drug paraphernalia, allowing all drug paraphernalia to be potentially defined and sold as marijuana accessories.

There is the question of storefront sales and whether the stores will be entirely adult-only retail stores strictly for marijuana, or would they be adult-only “7-11” type stores, selling other items as well.

Sbarra raised the question of local compliance inspections, similar to tobacco compliance, which is under the purview of local boards of health.

If a community had stricter smoking regulations than the state, board member Jason Reynolds asked, could the new regulations for cannabis override them? Sbarra replied that there are “strong preemption regulations” that would assure stricter local regulations supersede those of the state.

After outlining the lengthy list of public health concerns, Sbarra congratulated the town for the Special Town Meeting regarding the Adult Use of Marijuana moratorium, saying, “What Marion is doing now in moving forward on the moratorium gives you breathing room.”

Applications for permits from the state will be accepted starting April 1. Existing medical marijuana establishments will be given priority. Applicants must each have a number of items to support their application: they must show that their proposal conforms with existing bylaws within the town, have a letter from the Board of Health or the Board of Selectmen stating they do not oppose the application, have a Host Agreement with the town, and must show proof that they have held a community outreach meeting within the town.

Once an application is submitted, the town mayor or Board of Selectmen or Town Administrator is notified. Sbarra said that she did not believe there would be people lining up with completed applications in Marion, noting, “Some municipalities are lining up to be the Napa Valley of cannabis use!”

Regardless of whether or not the town approves the moratorium, the board can begin developing regulations immediately after the Town Meeting vote. Sbarra suggested that the CCC recognizes that municipalities are scrambling to develop and implement new regulations and will give leeway to those towns during the application process.

The CCC’s regulations won’t be finalized until March 15, which only gives towns two weeks to assure their regulations conform with the state’s version.

The Working Group is developing two model regulations for municipalities, one of which is a “placeholder” regulation that is simple and effective in the short term and could be amended over time. She believes that template would be available for use by Marion by the end of February.

Reynolds expressed for the entire board a reluctance to guess whether the moratorium will pass and wanted the town to be prepared in the event that it does not.

Once the Board of Health holds the public hearing on the new regulations, they could vote that night to approve them and they would be effective two weeks later when printed in the legal notices in the paper.

Reynolds expressed dismay at the prospect of undoing the hard work of the Board of Health as it relates to tobacco, lamenting, “What I’m concerned about is things that go against what the boards of health have fought for. There is enough commonality between smoking tobacco and cannabis … that we should be able to regulate it.”

The next scheduled meeting of the Marion Board of Health is February 13 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Health

By Sarah French Storer


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