Suhoski urges Gov. Baker to amend cannabis legislation on his desk

  • SUHOSKI

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 8/4/2022 3:26:08 PM
Modified: 8/4/2022 3:26:03 PM

ATHOL — “On your desk,” begins Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski’s correspondence to Gov. Charlie Baker, “is S-3096,the latest iteration from a long and winding road of bills focused on the cannabis industry. For all of the good in this legislation with respect to social equity, there is also a dose of inequity with the potential invalidation of over 1,000 existing contracts, negotiated in good faith, between the cannabis industry and communities incentivized to host a new and previously illegal business.”

Suhoski goes on to urge the governor to amend the bill in such a way that it protects host community agreements already signed by municipalities and cannabis businesses that include so-called “community impact fees.”

Baker is urged in the letter to alter the bill “by inserting … the following (language): ‘Host community agreements entered into before the enactment of this bill shall be considered valid and in compliance with these regulations until their expiration.’”

For months, Suhoski has been on a mission to protect existing host community agreements, particularly community impact fee provisions. He did tell the Athol Daily News that members of Athol’s legislative delegation were successful in removing from the original cannabis reform legislation one of its more onerous provisions.

“Sen. Comerford and Sen. Gobi,” he said, “were instrumental in removing a retroactive enactment date back to 2016 from the prior version of the Senate legislation. So, I’m not questioning the work that was done. It was good work, and they did take action in response to the concerns of communities.”

However, said Suhoski, the final version of the bill, worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, is still written in such a way that existing host community agreements can be thrown out or amended by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission when they come up for renewal.

“At issue,” he explained, “there is no exemption for the existing host community agreements. There’s so much good in the bill, but the one item, at the very expense of cities and towns — the great majority of which negotiated in good faith, in many cases following the terms that the cannabis industry presented to the community. They are contract law, and the final bill that sits on the governor’s desk would now subject these existing agreements to come under a state agency review rather than the court system, which is how contract law is adjudicated.”

So, Suhoski explained, even though the legislation is no longer retroactive to 2016, it still gives the state the power to impose its will on existing host community agreements.

“In the details of the final bill, is that even these existing agreements will come under the scrutiny of the CCC during any annual license renewal. So, essentially, they’re all subjected now to after-the-fact regulation — and it’s just not right.”

Suhoski said his letter to Baker reflects the earlier testimony of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

“It also reflects my sense of what small and rural communities would expect, through my role as the chair of the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts,” he continued. “It just seems unfortunate that we take all of the good by finally dealing with the social equity issue, which is laudable, and at the same time throwing out the very promise that was made to those pioneering cities and towns which, regardless of what you think about marijuana, those very pioneering cities and towns opened their doors to what was previously an illegal industry — still is, at the federal level — and which could create nuisance, whether it’s odor or wastewater discharge or traffic, and accepted this new industry into the town.

“It was a bargained-for promise, and now the Legislature — whether knowingly or conveniently unknowingly — is stripping that all away from the thousand-plus contracts that exist.”

Suhoski concluded his letter to Gov. Baker by saying, “Your office can stand as a bulwark against the encroachment by the Legislature into contract rights.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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