From Linda L. Noel
The Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy
On H. 3195, Sponsored by Representative Denise Provost
A Superior Regulatory System
Chairwoman Jehlen, Chairman Cusack, and members of the Committee, my name is Linda Noel. I am the Treasurer and a co-founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition/NORML. I am, also, a small farmer, with an heirloom tomato farm operating on a portion of 40 acres in Franklin, MA (Linda’s Tomatoes at Terrapin Farm). Thank you for this opportunity to present some remarks about H3195, An Act to Improve Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana, Sponsored by the honorable Representative Denise Provost.
Chapter 334, also known as Q4, sets up a completely new regulatory structure to oversee the production and retail sales of Cannabis (Marijuana) products in the Commonwealth. It creates a three-member Cannabis Commission, which some advocate expanding, with a whole new organization of administrative and inspection personnel. It also creates a large, if at the moment unpaid, Advisory Council to guide and steer the new Commission. It requires the Treasury Department to create a completely new regulatory and testing organization to oversee, track and test the new products and the new industry that will grow to provide and sell them. The estimated first year cost of this effort has been proposed at $10 million.
H 3195 has a much simpler and more cost effective regulatory system that is far more robust at dealing with the myriad details such a regulatory effort will entail, and the systems needed are already in existence, requiring far less outlay of tax dollars and less time to put into place: It places all aspects of consumer sales, health testing, labeling and advertising regulations under the Department of Health, where Medical Marijuana is now regulated; all monetary aspects of the industry under the Department of Revenue, as all industries in the Commonwealth are; and the regulation of all aspects of agricultural production, including pre-sales testing and safety, under the Department of Agriculture, as are all other Massachusetts agricultural commodities including Tobacco, hops for beer and medicinal herbs.
This regulatory structure is far superior to the proposed Cannabis Commission, would require no new bureaucracy to be created (and would eliminate the resulting pension obligations), and would still support a robust regulatory system for the new recreational Cannabis (Marijuana) industry. It would provide a system that would regulate Hemp (low-thc Cannabis) and Marijuana, and it would allow the struggling family farms in the Commonwealth to grow a new lucrative crop that could be the deciding factor that keeps a viable fertile farm from becoming another victim of development. It would allow small producers to compete with large corporate growers and further level the playing field for people from the communities most harmed by the decades of prohibition to reap some of the rewards of what is about to become a huge new industry in our state.
The Department of Health has already testified to this Committee regarding the system they have set up to regulate and oversee the Medical Marijuana industry in Massachusetts. They testified that they stand ready and able to assist the Department of Treasury in duplicating this system for the recreational market. We believe that this is an unnecessary and wasteful use of tax payer dollars when a simpler and more cost-efficient solution would be to allow the Department of Health to expand their system to test and regulate recreational Cannabis (Marijuana) just as they now do food, milk, and medical marijuana.
The Department of Agriculture has a system of statewide inspectors in place, familiarity with farming in Massachusetts and the needs of the family farmers as well as decades of experience overseeing the quality control, safety and environmental issues surrounding the production of all agricultural products, be they a controlled substance like Tobacco, a tightly regulated one like milk, or simply one that requires specific handling to be sold to the public, like tomatoes. They already have a state-wide network of offices, equipment and personnel that are well positioned to oversee the crop from the planting to the point at which the harvest enters a truck bound for a cannabis processing center.
First and foremost, Cannabis is an agricultural product, just like milk or tobacco. It will require additional security to guard against theft, but otherwise the oversight would be the same as any other agricultural crop: inspection of facilities; rules about production methods, contaminants, pesticides and sanitary conditions; licensing of producers, including oversight and revocation of such licenses; and safety testing and quality testing before the product leaves the production site, or ‘marijuana farm’.
Like milk, which is another agricultural commodity under heavy regulation, once the product leaves the farm, testing and control of all aspects of its packaging, handling and sale would then transfer to the Department of Health.
As a boon, but not meant as a source of funds for oversight, H 3195 stipulates that 12.5% of all Cannabis tax receipts be diverted to the Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund, which provides monies for MDAR to protect the family farms and sustainable agriculture in our great state.
As a further boon, to the legislature and the citizens of Massachusetts in general, H 3195 stipulates that all monies from taxation of Marijuana, except for the costs of oversight incurred by the three departments and the diversions to the Agricultural and substance abuse funds, be deposited in the General Fund for the legislature to disperse as they see fit.
Thank for allowing me to speak. I urge you to take a serious look at H3195. It is a bill that would greatly improve the regulation of the new Cannabis industry.