STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — With the chorus of critics calling for the Cannabis Control Commission to pump the brakes on its rollout of an expansive legal marijuana industry growing louder, the top marijuana regulator said Tuesday the agency will debate later this month whether it should license only certain types of marijuana businesses to open July 1, and wait to license others.

Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and others have called on the CCC to scale back the industry envisioned in its draft regulations -- which includes marijuana cafes, delivery-only marijuana businesses, and the ability for establishments like cinemas and massage parlors to offer limited marijuana products -- at least until an initial retail market takes hold.

"We're absolutely going to talk about that and if we do decide to not issue certain categories of licenses on day one we're not going to leave them open-ended, we'll say 'here's our timeline for subsequent rollout,' " CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said Tuesday when asked if the commission would consider a phased rollout of legal cannabis businesses. "But we have not made that decision, we are going to have that conversation."

That conversation is slated to happen on the final days of February -- the CCC has scheduled meetings on Feb. 26, 27 and 28 at which commissioners will discuss the feedback to the draft regulations and debate what changes should be made before the regulations are finalized.

On Monday, DeLeo said he agrees with many of the concerns Baker and his administration have raised with the CCC's draft industry regulations, including the worry that regulators have bitten off more than they can chew by trying to simultaneously launch several different categories of marijuana businesses.

"I feel that we're probably going a little bit quicker than I would like to see in terms of these other issues coming up whether they be selling door to door delivery, whether they be cafes or whatnot," DeLeo said Monday.

Asked Tuesday if there is anything wrong with slowing down the rollout of legal marijuana sales and the implementation of all the license types the CCC has contemplated, Hoffman said that is a decision that the CCC must debate as a commission.

"There are tradeoffs, I wouldn't say there is anything wrong with slowing down. Tradeoffs are giving people head starts in the marketplace and making it more difficult for others to enter later on," he said. "I'm not, again, saying it's a problem as much as that's the tradeoff that I think as a commission we're going to talk about when we get together two weeks from now."

Earlier Tuesday morning, Sen. Eric Lesser went on Boston Herald Radio and said he thinks it is important for the CCC to "get the bricks and mortar done first" before setting out to license social consumption establishments or other types of cannabis businesses.

"I think that the prudent thing to do is make sure the brick and mortar recreational sales get done with clarity and get done correctly first because I think that was the main thing voters were thinking about when they voted for this," Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, said. "But I do think that they need to provide some assurances to the public that these other items, which I do think need to happen, are done as quickly as possible."

Lesser suggested that the CCC should offer the public a "concrete implementation schedule" of when each license type would be launched "so that they understand and there is an appreciation that you can only get so much through the pipe at once. This is highly complex."

The senator also gave voice to the worries of marijuana advocates who have pressed regulators to forge ahead undeterred with what they view as key ways to ensure the legal marijuana industry is accessible to small businesses and communities that were disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition.

He said, "I think what people's concerns are and what constituents have expressed to me is that if they don't do it all at once then the other stuff won't happen."

Lesser made similar comments on a television program aired last week on WGBY in Springfield, but one lawmaker who appeared with Lesser disagreed that the CCC should slow down or scale back its vision for the industry.

Rep. Aaron Vega, who serves on the Marijuana Policy Committee, said on WGBY that if the CCC decides to wait to license its full suite of marijuana business categories, the illicit market will fill the void and offer the same services without the state getting a slice of the proceeds.

"This industry, whether you like it or not, totally exists in all of our communities," Vega said. "They offer products in a certain way, of a certain quality, with a certain potency and certain ways of delivery. If we're creating a legal industry of this, we've got to meet them where they're at."

Of marijuana cafes and delivery services, Vega said, "those things have to happen now."

--Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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