A recent rule change from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) paves the way for smokable hemp and extract sales in the state through licensed cannabis dispensaries.
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (the Commission) released guidance permitting hemp producers and processors to sell hempseed, hempseed oil, building materials, clothes, and other products and materials derived from industrial hemp to cannabis retailers, Hemp Grower previously reported.
"However, the sale of CBD products—aside from topicals and non-food CBD products that do not make any therapeutic claims and are not marketed as a dietary supplement—remained illegal, unless approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)," HG reported.
And the sale of unprocessed or raw hemp, including flower, was only allowed from a licensed grower to grower or a grower to processor under the guidance. Flower sales to consumers were not permitted in the state.
HG spoke with Laura Beohner, the president and co-founder of The Healing Rose Company, a hemp processor and manufacturer of finished skincare products, as well as the co-founder and director of the Massachusetts Hemp Coalition, in May when the initial guidance was released.
While Beohner said the guidance provided some relief to Massachusetts hemp producers and processors, it wasn't enough, as she was hoping the state would open the CBD market as a whole.
At the time, there were two bills in place that would have changed the law: Amendment 130, which Sen. Diana DiZoglio filed to the state Senate's 2021 budget in May, and bill H146, which was introduced to the state's House of Representatives in March.
The measures gave the state two chances to "open up the gates for hemp-derived CBD to be added to food, dietary supplements, animal feed, and other products sold in the state. It would also permit the sale of hemp flower to consumers," HG reported.
But Amendment 130 was rejected, and H146 is still stuck in committee, Beohner tells HG.
"It might take us resubmitting it next year, unfortunately," she says. "I think it was just at the end of a lot of legislative priorities, even though we did make a lot of noise about it."
A Long Time Coming
Although neither bill passed, hemp producers and processors got another avenue of relief from MDAR's recent change.
MDAR amended the guidance to allow hemp producers and processors to sell unprocessed or raw hemp, flower, unfinished hemp-derived material such as extracts and distillates and finished hemp products to licensed cannabis retailers for consumer use.
However, the guidance states that the sale of such products to places that do not have a Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) license remains illegal.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis for individuals 21 years and older. The same will apply to hemp products sold in dispensaries.
The guidance also establishes new labeling requirements from MDAR on hemp-derived products that are intended for human “consumption or absorption.”
In addition, the new guidance clarifies that unprocessed or raw plant material must be sold in accordance with regulation put forth by the Commission. The guidance makes clear that the Commission may implement additional testing requirements beyond those needed for hemp testing.
Boehner says the new guidance is a "step in the right direction" because it opens a new outlet for farmers to sell their product. However, she still believes there is still a considerable need for the CBD food and beverage market to open up and for smokable flower and extracts to be sold to places outside of licensed retailers, as the licensed establishments only make up a small fraction of the overall market.
Jacob Zieminski, owner of CAVU Hemp, a Massachusetts-based hemp farm that cultivates, processes, and produces small-batch artisan hemp products, and board member of the Massachusetts Hemp Leadership Council, agrees that the new guidance is good for farmers. He prefers to keep the market limited to licensed retailers only.
"Being able to now sell within the dispensaries, I think is very important for us to create that closed market, to give the opportunity to a licensed grower and processor within the commonwealth in the state of Massachusetts," he says.
However, Zieminski says he thinks Massachusetts will face significant political pressure, outside influence and lobbying that could change the policy to allow the sale of smokable hemp products outside of licensed retailers. Still, as a "farmer, dual-licensed grower and processor extractor, I don't want that," he says.
"I want to just sell to the dispensaries," he says. "I want to be able to have that closed market in the sense that I can bring a high-quality product at a low cost or a reasonable cost. … I think if it's medicine and it's treated like that for people to get relief, it needs to be fair and reasonable.
"If we start blasting these small retail shops and smoke shops and gas stations and everywhere else, the quality of delivery from the retailer to the consumer loses that impact value around education and awareness as we grow this industry, which is a huge opportunity to teach people," he adds. "I think we need to position ourselves to be the craft farmers up here, and I think empowering this new generation of farmers to collaborate with what's out there right now of the seasoned and the older generations is going to be important for us."
With the new guidance, Boehner says The Healing Rose plans to work with local farmers and will be offering end-consumers co-branded flower and specialty pre-rolls.
"We're getting kind of creative," she says. "So, it won't just be hemp flower in a piece of paper. We're coming up with some cool ideas, whether it's incorporating herbs, specialty wraps, or things like that. We're kind of in the [research and development] process now that we're able to work with flower, which we weren't sure when that was going to come into effect."
Zieminski says now that the new guidance is in place, he thinks the state needs to be hyper-focused and thoughtful about testing regulations, such as how much farmers should be testing and what microbials they should be testing for when growing in a greenhouse versus outdoors.
"I do think we need to give farmers some tools right now around what they can use for fungicide[s], insecticides and pesticides that are safe, fair, and reasonable because right now, [very few are approved] for marijuana and hemp. So, I think we've got to fix that," he says. "Now [that] we're fast-approaching the spring, people are making plans, and that's a big part of their success. So, that's one thing that we've been heavily involved in, and we're very happy for the smokable [hemp], but we can't lose sight that there are some other barriers that we need to be working on hand-in-hand with that change."