Lawmakers getting public input on bills focused on local fees for pot shops

BOSTON — Lawmakers are hearing from the public on a handful of bills aimed at clearing up who has the final say over the fees cities and towns require marijuana companies to pay to set up shop.

Ascend marijuana dispensary is now open for business. The 16,000-square-foot facility on Friend Street near the TD Garden is reportedly the largest dispensary on the East Coast.

A few blocks down the road at the State House, the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy is reviewing some proposed bills aimed at clarifying who gets jurisdiction over the fees cannabis companies like Ascend are required to pay to set up shop in communities.

And it’s a long time coming, said Grant Smith Ellis from the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.

“If these barriers start to come down, if HCA laws are actually enforced, there will be more competition, lower prices, more smaller operators and a more equal playing field,” Ellis said.

The House passed a bill tightening the language around HCAs last year after former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was charged with seeking bribes from local marijuana operators. The measure died in the Senate, resetting the legislative process.

“There are just good government interests at stake. We want to make sure there are stronger guardrails around these agreements so there’s not as much vulnerability to abuse of power,” said State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, co-chair of the Cannabis Policy Committee.

A recent UMass Boston analysis of 460 HCAs showed that “a significant proportion of the agreements...required additional payments from businesses beyond the legal limit, amounting to an excess of at least $2.46 million...”

“We have to make sure that we are balancing these things out and say to local communities, look you can go up to 3%, but you can’t go overboard because it’s going to come at the expense of these other goals that the law has,” Senator Chang Diaz said.

Those goals include the enforcement of equity provisions in the state’s law. Currently, there are only two economic empowerment applicants in operation. Other proposals being considered require municipalities to publicly disclose the actual costs covered by the fees they collect.