Federal charges were filed against Mayor Jasiel Correia of Fall River with regards to alleged extortion of funds in lieu of his approval in the opening of marijuana dispensaries in the town. These make the sparks fly regarding the approval of Marijuana businesses in Massachusetts. The 27-year-old Mayor of Fall River was believed to have accepted campaign donations, under-the-counter money, and even a high-end watch for the pay-to-play game, according to the Federal prosecutors.
With the case, a seemingly odd alliance between two frequently opposing parties, the cannabis advocates and law officials, has drawn some attention. Both sides expressed concern on the pay-to-play scheme by the cities and towns which, for them, is an act of bribery and extortion. According to Inspector General of Massachusetts Glenn Cunha on the press release held last Friday, he hoped that with the current prosecution it will open the eyes of the Legislature, Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), and other interested parties to assess the need of more reforms which are deemed necessary.
Current consultant for the cannabis business and a former spokesperson for the 2016 legalization campaign, Jim Borghesani hopes that the horrible act will not cause the same turmoil of the present cannabis industry.
How to get approval for cannabis business?
The aspiring business owner must undergo a series of steps before they will get approval to start the business. Starting with procuring local permits to getting a license from CCC. But before getting a license, the aspiring owner must come to terms with the host community agreement set by the officials of the town or city they wish to put-up their business. The agreement will be explained in simple terms by both parties and they must reach an agreement with the business details. The community also has a final say with regards to the businesses opening in their area. The host community agreement also tackles the required community dues and taxes that have to be paid.
A marijuana company can be taxed up to 3% of the company’s total revenue as a community impact fee. The fees are used to pay for traffic studies and police overtime.
According to Atty. Kevin Conroy, who currently works with the licensing process of cannabis companies, usually the local legislatures are in charge of the host community agreements. Mostly, they don’t unilaterally favour the agreement but that is to ensure that the community has the advantage over.
Some have raised concerns about how the host community agreement works. Mainly because some towns and municipalities are beyond control with the rates they charge the cannabis company.
In a study made last January, about 79% of the state’s host community agreement exhorted more than the 3% limit to which they made it as a voluntary donation for charity. The cannabis industry advocates have called foul over the agreements for it slackened the rollout of shops and aggravated the lack of uniformity in the industry. The Cannabis Control Commission is not authorized to evaluate these agreements. Last January, they requested the lawmakers to give them the authority to do so.
The second concern is that the system allows the abuse of pay-to-play scheme which invites law enforcement officials to commit corruption. According to Atty. Andrew Lelling, the one who brought charged to Correia, the system tempts the officials to perform bribery and extortion. He further added that with the legalization of marijuana there has been an outpour of applications for the business. The local officials are lured into taking money or even a luxurious item in exchange for a letter which could be their golden ticket to the business of their dreams.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Massachusetts Republican, expressed support to the Cannabis Control Commission’s request for an altercation with the current law.
A hearing was held last July by the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy on the two bills regarding the host community agreement. The first bill, by State Senator Julian St. Cyr, would authorize CCC to have a say with regards to the host community agreement. The second one, introduced by state Representative David Rogers, would veto community impact fees that would go beyond 3% of the company’s total revenue. But, municipal representatives spearheaded by the Geoff Beckwith, Massachusetts Municipal Association’s executive director, counters the two aforementioned bills. As for him, these bills undermine the power of local authority.
Atty. Conroy also expressed his sentiments saying that the public should not overreact with the heinous act of one official and still believes that there are still a lot of local officials who work with good intentions. But he still thinks that the Joint Committee should act now to clarify the vagueness of the agreement with regards to community impact fees and the CCC’s authority.