For Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought several concerns relating to the marijuana industry: first, the health and safety of employees, but also the long-term viability of small businesses that were just getting started.
“These are relatively new businesses, many of them are owned and operated by new and not particularly well-financed entrepreneurs,” said Hoffman, who is among the panelists speaking during a webinar being hosted by NJ Cannabis Insider and Advance 360 and titled “Cannabis and COVID-19: Where Does America Go From Here? presented by Duane Morris.”
At the May 13 event, the conversation will focus on medical marijuana, legalization, and the hemp and CBD industries during the coronavirus pandemic, while also looking ahead at the Nov. 3 national elections. Audience members will be able to submit questions ahead of the event, which starts at 1 p.m., and can purchase tickets, which cost $8.50, at advance360.com/cannabis-insider-live.
As chair of the CCC, Hoffman and other Massachusetts marijuana regulators have been flexible as the pandemic has stretched on. The commission itself is working remotely. Since March, the commission has made changes to try and ease the burden on cannabis businesses and medical patients, allowing medical dispensaries to offer curbside pickup, allowing patients to renew their registration via telehealth methods and allowing the recreational market to support the medical market via wholesale transfers.
In Massachusetts, recreational marijuana businesses have not been deemed essential business by Gov. Charlie Baker and have been forced to close while medical dispensaries can still operate. Massachusetts is the only state with legal marijuana that has shut down recreational stores.
“My biggest concern is some of them probably won’t weather the storm, particularly the longer this order stays in place, the more likely it is that some of them just won’t weather the storm and won’t reopen and I think that’s just a really, really sad outcome,” said Hoffman, who added that he was not disputing the governor’s order.
But, Hoffman said he is certain the CCC could enforce safe regulation of recreational businesses amid the pandemic.
“I think the criteria is increasingly going to be what can we do safely, we’ve got to start reopening our economies so let’s start with the things that we can do safely and the message that I want to get across here is that we can absolutely can run the adult-use industry safely,” said Hoffman.
The closure of recreational stores has lead to a spike in new medical marijuana patient registrations in Massachusetts, steep financial losses for businesses and the layoffs and furloughs of employees.
“I am very concerned about the viability of many of these companies,” said Hoffman, who noted that cannabis companies are not eligible for the federal Paycheck Protection Program because marijuana is still federally illegal. CCC commissioners have sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation advocating for financial support for the state’s marijuana businesses.
Legislation that would make cannabis businesses eligible for Small Business Administration COVID-19 relief programs has been recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who is the keynote speaker for the webinar.
Justin Zaremba, an NJ Cannabis Insider editor and a longtime news reporter for NJ.com, will moderate the discussion. In addition to Hoffman, panelists include:
- Karen O’Keefe is the director of state policies for Marijuana Policy Project.
- Katie Neer, the director of government affairs for Acreage Holdings
- Chris Melillo, senior vice president of retail operations for Curaleaf
- Paul Josephson, a partner at Duane Morris where he’s a constitutional and regulatory litigator who advises CEOs, elected officials, and agency heads on a broad spectrum of matters, including cannabis
- Imani Dawson, vice president of MJM Strategy, and communications director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana
- Joy Beckerman, founder of Hemp Ace International and a former president of the Hemp Industries Assn.
After the live event, attendees will be able to continue the discussion and network in a closed forum, moderated by journalists covering marijuana and hemp industries.