After a long debate and lots of acrimony, home delivery of marijuana is moving ahead in Massachusetts. The state's Cannabis Control Commission gave final approval to home delivery on Monday. Commission member Shaleen Title discussed home delivery with GBH News' All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcipt has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: You've long been a backer of home delivery when it comes to to marijuana, and you've said it's an issue of equity. Could you explain how under CCC guidelines, social equity and economic empowerment moves to the fore with delivery licenses?
Commissioner Shaleen Title: Absolutely. So in addition to being in charge of regulating the safety and the testing and the security for the marijuana industry, our agency is also charged with ensuring that it's a fair industry. Specifically, when we look back before marijuana was legalized, for decades it was certain communities that were targeted for marijuana crimes enforcement, and they faced very serious consequences and impact. And so we are charged with making sure that those communities in particular have meaningful participation in the industry. And that's been really challenging over the past few years, although we're slowly and steadily making progress. So the reason the delivery licenses are very important is because for the first three years at least, delivery licenses will only be for businesses that are owned and controlled by people from those previously harmed communities.
Rath: With home delivery, there will be two types of licenses. Tell me if I'm getting this wrong — there's one for delivery services that would buy marijuana wholesale from growers and sell it to consumers, and another one for courier services that would deliver marijuana from existing shops. Is that right?
Title: You have it correct, yes.
Rath: So break down how all those would be social equity and economic empowerment candidates.
Title: Yes, exactly. So there are two types of licenses. The first one, the courier license, like its name, it just involves taking the product from the retailer to the consumer. And that is intended to be a lower capital license. But we did get a lot of pushback that it may not be feasible, given that the only revenue they'll be making is delivery fees. And given how heavily regulated these businesses are, they need two people in the car. They need body cameras, they need strict security. So we added a second type of license, and this delivery operator license will allow businesses to purchase directly from cultivators and manufacturers and then deliver from warehouses to consumers.
Rath: Let's talk about some of the arguments against home delivery. Some people say that it could pose a risk to public health and safety. Could you maybe talk in more detail about — you mentioned things like body cameras — what is in place to protect public health and safety when this goes into effect?
Title: So we did spend three years now discussing this and making sure that all different stakeholders, including law enforcement, have the opportunity to raise their concerns and that we address them. And we do have very strict security standards that I think err on the side of caution. Part of that is having to talk to people in the car, having a limit on how big an order can be, having a limit on how much cash or market value of product you can have in the car, and then the body cameras. I happen to have a lot of concerns about the body cameras. On the one hand, they can record deliveries for safety reasons. On the other hand, they could be an invasion of privacy. So we ended up compromising where consumers should know the deliveries will be recorded, but the businesses can't release those recordings other than to law enforcement with a warrant or an emergency. And then after 30 days, they'll be deleted.
Rath: The other argument against, the major one, seems to come from existing marijuana shops, some of whom say that home delivery could could hurt business for existing retailers.
Title: Well, we've heard that from some retailers. We've had other retailers who are very much in support of the proposal and the opportunity to partner with equity and economic empowerment businesses and careers. I guess my reaction to that would be, if you don't want to be in a market that changes, then the cannabis industry may not be right for you, because this is a very rapidly changing, highly regulated industry and there will be more types of licensing, more competition. And I think businesses should be flexible and ready to innovate in the coming years as the market matures.
Rath: Let's talk a bit more about how home delivery is actually going to work. From a consumer perspective, how will it work?
Title: So we do allow the use of third party technology platforms. I expect that a lot of people will use delivery apps on their phones, or websites. They can order the products either from the retailer via a courier or they can order directly from the delivery operators. They will be allowed to receive deliveries if they're in a municipality that has either opted in by allowing retail sales or specifically opted in with the commission. So that means people who live in cities or towns that have banned marijuana retail sales won't be able to receive delivery at this point. But it just demonstrates that there is a very strong role for local approval, both in terms of the delivery regulations themselves and in terms of which businesses will be licensed to operate in cities.
Rath: Home delivery seems especially pertinent right now, given the pandemic. So many people are having groceries and other things delivered. But do you have a sense of how long it will be before delivery is actually up and running? Our experience has been that things sometimes take a while when it comes to marijuana in Massachusetts.
Title: Generous way of saying it. Yeah, I am so happy that it happened when we really need delivery, of course, for health-related pandemic reasons. We are definitely going to be as efficient as possible. I expect that the application for delivery operator licenses will be out early next year, and then it's a matter of a few months before they can be finalized and operating. And in terms of the courier licenses, we've actually already granted about 50 pre-certifications, so those will be able to move even faster.
Rath: Do you have any sense, or are there any studies, that give you any indication of how big a part of the marijuana business home delivery may become?
Title: That's a great question. Obviously it might be much bigger than we even expect, because people are using delivery so much now. I would ask people to pay attention to our website, mass-cannabis-control.com. We'll be studying the delivery program and statistics very closely and making it available to the public.