In late October, new regulations went into effect in Massachusetts that are set to have a major impact on Host Community Agreements (HCA) between license applicants or licensees and the municipalities that host them.
Under the new guidelines, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has the authority to review and approve HCA and impose penalties on host communities that violate HCA regulatory requirements.
But even before the new guidelines went into effect, cannabis operators in Massachusetts have had to deal with compliance guidelines and enforcement that can be strenuous and can trip up even more veteran cannabis operations.
To gain a better understanding of the compliance fines that cannabis businesses in Massachusetts are most likely to face, Rootwurks spoke to Casey Leaver, the Director of Regulatory Compliance for cannabis law firm Vicente LLP.
Here are her selections for the top 5 things companies should be ready for in a cannabis compliance inspection in Massachusetts.
For a retail cannabis company, the inventory you stock - and the proper management of that inventory - is crucial to daily operations.
“If your inventory is off that’s the biggest one. Of all your responsibilities, keeping track of your cannabis is the most important and fastest moving,” Leaver said.
Leaver noted that inventory must be tracked in real-time and audited monthly and annually according to the state regulations - including when it comes to waste.
“One of the biggest oversights people do with their inventory is they don't check it against their waste log. You want to make sure that inventory includes all cannabis products on site including waste,” Leaver said, adding that dispensaries must make sure that the inventory numbers match what is in the store and the waste bins.
Leaver added that one of the reasons that inventory guidelines are so strictly followed in Massachusetts is because of concern about “diversion” - the illegal movement of cannabis from the regulated market to the illicit market.
Visitor Log and Visitor Protocol
In Massachusetts, a “visitor” at a marijuana business or facility is, generally speaking, anyone who is not an agent of the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission or registered agent at the facility. A visitor log violation is also one of the most common and easiest compliance violations to accrue.
“The Commission checks the visitor log for completion and they also check it for accuracy. So if they [dispensary staff] say we got a delivery at 5 p.m., they [enforcement staff] will pull up your video footage at 5 p.m. and say, oh really? Because I don't see anybody walking around in there at 5 p.m. They don't mess around, they check that log for sure,” Leaver said.
She added that it is also “a really easy gotcha. Visitor entries with blank times is a really easy deficiency.”
Leaver said that the visitor log guideline isn’t so much looking for ways to stave off diversion, it’s more about security.
She added that people mainly make mistakes when it comes to checking out visitors, not checking them in.
Security System Audits
In all legal cannabis states, there are specific guidelines for the operation of surveillance and security systems. In Massachusetts, these guidelines result in some of the most commonly cited violations.
“I would say that doing security system audits every 30 days is a huge thing,” Leaver said, adding that companies must also make sure they keep records for their surveillance footage heading back 90 days.
“A lot of people when they do their security audits, fail to actually check to see if the server has space for 90 days. So all of a sudden they’re blindsided when they only have, like, 70 days worth of footage,” Leaver said, adding that this is a shortcoming that should be caught in a company’s internal audit - if the company checks for it.
Leaver said inspectors also check that the date and time stamp are accurate and that she has seen cases where the footage doesn’t even reflect the right day or time zone. In addition, people often move things around in cannabis stores or facilities which ends up blocking the cameras, potentially resulting in another compliance violation.
Customers may not pay much mind to the signage and cannabis consumer warnings posted on the counters of dispensaries, but for those businesses, they are essential. The signs include specific language centered on cannabis safety that must be posted at each point of sale.
Under Massachusetts cannabis compliance guidelines, dispensaries must also make available educational materials, including warnings about driving under the influence of marijuana or material that notes that “Marijuana has not been analyzed or approved by the FDA, that there is limited information on side effects, that there may be health risks associated with using Marijuana, and that it should be kept away from children.”
According to Leaver, as time goes by and the vigilance recedes, companies can find themselves overlooking this very simple guideline.
“There is specific language in the regulations that you have to post at each point of sale and over time things get moved around or they neglect to put it back so a lot of times we see that the signage was previously there but is now gone.”
Packaging and Labeling Requirements
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has specific requirements for the packaging of cannabis products that state that packaging must be child-resistant and resealable, must allow for cannabis consumers to easily identify a single serving, and must be opaque or plain in appearance. Among other requirements, the guideline states that the packaging must not resemble any existing branded consumer products that don't contain cannabis.
According to Leaver, even though packaging is done on the production side, it is still up to the dispensary to make sure that it is compliant.
“Retailers are the last line of defense in packaging and labeling compliance so if the Commission comes in and sees things are not labeled right you’re going to get a [compliance] deficiency for it.”
Leaver added “you should never assume your suppliers are doing their compliance, you should do your own check. The retailer is equally responsible and the Commission does hold you to it.”
Cannabis compliance regulations in Massachusetts can be very complicated to meet, even if you have a dedicated compliance team. To see how the Rootwurks Learning Experience Platform can help your company meet these demands and improve safety training for your team, drop us a line here and we can give you a closer look.