Dr. Julie Johnson, head of research for the MA Cannabis Control Commission, addresses the CCC on October 14, 2021.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission fulfilled its mandate to study high potency and recommend concentration limits with a frustrated shrug.

“This report states that we did not find sufficient evidence to recommend a concentration cap at this time,” said Dr. Julie Johnson, director of research for the CCC.

The recommendation, or rather the announcement that there was not enough research to produce recommendations, came Thursday, Oct. 14, during the monthly meeting of the CCC’s board.

As per 2017’s Ensure Safe Access to Cannabis Act, the Commission was required to produce a report along with the Department of Public Health on the effect of high potency THC on the body, as well as recommending whether or not the state should impose a limit on THC content.

“There are major political and practical barriers to conducting research with cannabis products,” said Johnson. “Current English-language literature lacks standardization, making cross-study comparisons challenging.”

There is currently only one federally-approved marijuana cultivator for research in the country, which is the University of Mississippi, thus limiting the availability of cannabis for federally-funded research. Johnson noted that the marijuana produced by Ole Miss is not as THC-rich as what Massachusetts cultivators produce.

“I find this topic so incredibly frustrating,” said Commission Chair Steven Hoffman. “We have this incredibly controversial industry where there are incredibly strong opinions and no facts.”

Johnson said that although there is currently a lack of useful research, there are positive signs for future research, such as the announcement last May from the National Institutes of Health that 5 mg of THC would be the standard unit for cannabis research.

“I hope that collectively, in this state we can actually get research started,” said Hoffman. “I think there is tremendous untapped potential of how medical marijuana can help in qualities of lives across all age groups.”

At the same meeting, the Commission announced that it had currently received 687 license applications for cohort 3 of its social equity program.

“We hope we can identify additional outreach opportunities where they may exist, and not just geographically, but demographically, as well,” said commission Executive Director Shawn Collins. “We want to get folks into this process.”

The CCC split up its social equity program application process into cohorts to better manage training and educational opportunities that are a large part of the program. The most recent cohort began accepting applications in mid-June, and has since pushed back their deadline from Sept. 15. to Nov. 15.

Collins announced that the CCC had thus far received 687 applications. Of those, 135 have already been approved, 230 are pending, 318 have been reopened in order for more information to be provided, and 4 have withdrawn.

“We’re not rejecting applications as much as we are reopening them,” said Collins. “Once you are accepted, benefits, such as the exclusive license type, accrue immediately, as well as some of the course work that is available.”

The commission also renewed 46 existing licenses, with no denials, and approved dozens of new licenses for the month, including final license approvals for six adult-use dispensaries, one cultivator, two product manufacturers, one business and one new medical marijuana license. The commission approved provisional licenses for six dispensaries, four cultivators, four product manufacturers, one transporter and one delivery service, and one microbusiness.

As part of the commission’s effort to close out reporting on Fiscal Year 21, which officially ended June 30, the commission presented budgetary data that showed support from the legislature in terms of budget increases, as well as fee and fine collection data that may explain the legislative support.

Licensing fees reached $25 million in FY21, which included $1.2 million in collected penalties and fines. This is in contrast to the $15.5 million that the state appropriated for the commission for the same period.

“We have gotten pretty much everything we ask for each year. We’re deeply grateful for that,” said Hoffman. “Part of why we’ve gotten what we ask for, is because I think we’ve made it clear that we are careful stewards of the state’s money.”

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...