Now a few months into her role with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion is keeping a focus on addressing the legacy market and finding a more streamlined way for the regulatory agency to voice support for issues like the creation of a social equity fund.
Meanwhile, recreational cannabis delivery is just getting started in Massachusetts. Concepcion told MassLive she hopes to hear feedback and criticism on the regulations as products reach customers’ doorsteps.
Concepcion, who sits in the public safety seat on the commission, said the delivery regulations in place are thorough, particularly the requirement of having two people in each delivery vehicle, with body cameras and tracking.
“I think that it’s really thought out, but I’m also open to hearing criticism and understanding now that it’s operating and it’s happening now, what it actually looks like,” she said.
In May, Freshly Baked, a microbusiness with a delivery endorsement, got approval to start the first adult-use cannabis deliveries in Massachusetts. On Tuesday, the commission authorized Your Green Package and We Can Deliver to start deliveries, as a courier operation, as early as Saturday.
Concepcion credited former commissioner Britte McBride for working to ensure public safety was paramount when it came to delivery.
“What I can say, also, is that it’s still very early,” Concepcion said. “I think that with anything in this industry … we’re learning and we’re getting a better understanding.”
Delivery allows some people who have financial barriers to get involved in the cannabis industry. Though expensive, it’s still less costly than opening a retail store. Access to capital has been among the top concerns for social equity and economic empowerment applicants in particular.
“We talk about identifying individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and enforcement and finding ways of really getting people into this industry that otherwise would turn to the the illegal, or the legacy market, and continue in that route,” Concepcion said.
There has been a push for an equity fund to help such applicants. Concepcion said all the current commissioners have voiced support for creating a social equity fund for those individuals who don’t have access to capital.
“Access to capital is by far the biggest hurdle that people are facing because it costs a lot, it costs a lot to come to this industry,” Concepcion said. “Delivery is not your average brick and mortar, so it’s less of an economic burden but it still costs a lot of money. We’re definitely pushing and trying to advocate at the State House and really vocalize our support for that [social equity fund] creation.”
When it comes to the commissioner being able to advocate and communicate to the legislature, Concepcion wants to create a process for commissioners to formalize their position on topics. Previously, individual commissioners have written letters or testified on their own behalf.
Concepcion thinks it will be stronger if the commission as a whole can come forward to signal support on particular issues. Concepcion said she is still developing what the process may look like but envisions taking time during monthly public meetings to have commissioners vote in support or opposition of issues raised by the government affairs director or a single commissioner.
Under her umbrella as the public safety seat, Concepcion is keeping an eye on the legacy market.
“I know we won’t be able to completely eliminate people who are still doing illegal transactions and doing things in that space, but just kind of identifying what is gearing that, why that’s continuing,” she said. “I know that delivery is a brainchild of Commissioner McBride because she thought about also curtailing the illicit market, curtailing the legacy market.”
She said she’s also taking a look at the commissioner’s suitability chart, which outlines certain offenses that may bar someone from taking part in the industry. Concepcion said she’s worked with suitability charts before. The commission’s chart reminds her of the standards used for the state Department of Early Education and Care, she said.
“I think for an agency like EEC, a lot of things make sense. A lot of the offenses, it makes sense to bar someone like that from becoming a part of being able to watch children or care for certain sensitive communities,” she said. “In this context, it’s a little bit different, so that’s something I’ve had my eye toward.”
Concepcion was counsel for state Sen. William Brownsberger and served as staff to the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Conference Committee on the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018.
She was working as Brownsberger’s counsel when Question 4, to legalize cannabis in Massachusetts, was before the legislature. Brownsberger was appointed to a conference committee on the matter and Concepcion said she was able to advise the state senator on some of the legal implications on people who already had records and if they had access to expungement.
Concepcion said she did vote to legalize recreational cannabis.