An “Independent” Commission: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Apparently Come

The Boston Globe reports that the Legislature is very likely to strip the State Treasurer of Authority to appoint and oversee the Cannabis Control Commission in favor of an “independent” Commission funded by licensing fees and appointed by various state elected officials. The model appears to be the controversial Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

I explained here why the Gaming Commission is not a good model for the regulation of cannabis in the Commonwealth. Allow me to add a few additional reasons why:

— The Treasurer’s Office has a wide variety of functions: she cannot so easily be swayed by the influence of an industry whose regulation is but one of many of her very public responsibilities. On the other hand, an independent Commission’s raison d’etre will be Cannabis. It will more easily become an industry cheerleader because its very existence is inextricably tied to the virtues and success of the industry.

Take the experience of the supposedly independent Gaming Commission, where images of glitzy casinos splash across this government’s agency’s webpage like banner ads, the Chairman wears dice cufflinks, and where Commissioners spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars on first class junkets to the finest casinos in Asia.

The idea that this structure reduces regulatory capture has not borne fruit in Massachusetts. The Gaming Commission has excused delays, hiring and revenue shortfalls, downsizing of projects, and criminal activity without consequence to any gaming licensee or any accountability. The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, within the Treasurer’s Office – while hardly perfect – has recently stepped up enforcement of liquor violations and streamlined its licensing process to assist municipalities.

— The Treasurer, as the Globe notes, has been studying the industry and regulatory experiences in other states in anticipation of exercising the authority granted by law. The Legislature will inflict delay and greater expense if it squanders that knowledge.

— The Treasurer has experience – and long-serving in-house investigators – enforcing criminal and civil laws attendant to alcohol license holders.  Her office will be a natural fit for a similar regulatory structure for cannabis.  As the Globe also notes, this is why most other states that regulate adult use of cannabis do so through their respective Treasury/Revenue departments.

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