Mass. Cannabis Regulators Push Telehealth, Pandemic Policies Into New Year

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — The Cannabis Control Commission voted Wednesday to give itself a little more time to consider the future of three pandemic-era policies and will return in February to its debate around telehealth allowances for initial medical marijuana consultations, the ability for medical marijuana dispensaries to sell products curbside, and the authorization for cannabis companies to hold virtual community outreach meetings.

All three policies, which have previously been extended by the commission, were set to expire Dec. 31. But commissioners were in unanimous agreement Wednesday that they should remain in place at least through the CCC's planned Feb. 9 meeting, at which they expect to hold a more detailed discussion.

"We wanted to give our staff enough time to actually gather a little bit more of this information to make a determination as to whether or not this is something that we just extend for another period of time, whether we consider this in our regulations to make some of these notions permanent," Chairwoman Shannon O'Brien said. "And so that's why we're meeting today, to just make sure that we don't abruptly end these opportunities for people, but also we have a time certain within which we're going to make a determination about this either temporarily again or permanently."

Executive Director Shawn Collins said that his staff would need more time to pull together a more comprehensive report, but logged into Wednesday's meeting armed with some preliminary data on the extent to which the policies in question are being used.

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Over the last year, the CCC issued 22 new waivers for providers to be able to hold initial visits with prospective medical marijuana patients via telehealth rather than in-person. Some other waivers were automatically extended. Collins said the agency does not have data on the percentage of patients who had their initial visits conducted virtually.

Of the applicants for marijuana business licenses filed in the last six months, he said, 48 percent have taken advantage of the ability to host their required community outreach meetings virtually. That allowance comes with requirements that there be a third-party moderator involved, that residents be able to submit questions ahead of time, and that a recording of the meeting be shared with both the CCC and host community.

"What we've done historically is we've actually tied it to the commission's ability to meet remotely. In other words, so as to not be hypocritical, if the commission's able to meet remotely, then we believe that perhaps licensees or at this point applicants should have that same ability," Collins said.

O'Brien noted during Wednesday's meeting that the next time the CCC convenes, on Jan. 12, the commissioners will meet in person with some remote option still available for observers.

And 30 of the state's 100 operational medical marijuana treatment centers (MTCs) are still conducting curbside sales under the CCC's pandemic-era policy, Collins said.

"There might be plenty of anecdotal reasons why that number seems low to me. It could be that folks are co-located and so the adult-use operation alongside an MTC, it can certainly be confusing for folks visiting the facility as to who may actually enjoy curbside," Collins said. "It also may just be physical layout of the facility, how to accommodate a curbside operation in perhaps a downtown setting, for instance, versus a large enough parking lot."

Written by Colin Young/SHNS.

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