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Massachusetts Workforce Program Faces Restrictions In Supporting Marijuana Industry Due To Federal Prohibition, Memo Says, But Hemp Sector Is OK



A Massachusetts workforce development program that receives federal funding said it is restricted from using those resources to aid the state-legal marijuana industry due to ongoing prohibition, a new guidance memo says. It can, however, use the money to provide services to the hemp industry, which is federally legal.

In a memo sent to MassHire leaders and staff last month, Diane Hurley, the acting director of the the agency’s Department of Career Services, said that despite state-level legalization of cannabis in Massachusetts, U.S. law still prevents federal Workplace Opportunity and Investment Act (WOIA) funds from being used “to directly or indirectly support the marijuana industry.”

“Although Massachusetts has passed the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, in accordance with federal law, marijuana maintains a classification of a Schedule 1 narcotic and is federally illegal,” the memo says.

By law, the state, “as the pass-through entity, must advise subrecipients of requirements imposed by federal and state laws, regulations, and the provisions of contracts or grant agreements,” it continues. “All grant agreements between [the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)] and the state must follow all applicable federal statutes, regulations, policies, and guidelines.”

Similar restrictions apply to other federal funds, the letter says, including “WIOA, Wagner-Peyser, Trade Adjustment Assistance, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, [Work Participant Program (WPP)] Expansion Program, Foreign Labor Certification, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and National Dislocated Worker Grant programs.”

“It also applies to staffing and services under these programs, including, but not limited to, training, employer outreach, hiring events, career counseling, job orders and referrals,” it continues. “There are no exceptions to this prohibition.”

Hurley’s memo says that since Massachusetts legalized marijuana, “questions have come up regarding services to job seekers, Migrant Seasonal Farm Workers (MSFWs), and other individuals who obtain employment, work or have worked in the industrial hemp or marijuana industries. There have also been questions regarding the provision of services to employers (growers/dispensaries) that have expressed interest in posting job orders and/or seeking assistance with recruitment efforts from MassHire Career Centers.”

In addition to the memo itself, MassHire also published a Q&A about the policy clarification.

In response to a question about whether career centers can use state and local funds instead of federal funds to work with the marijuana industry, the agency said yes—but only if it can clearly document that no federal resources are spent on the matter.

It is the responsibility of the individual career center to ensure that it remains compliant with all applicable laws and guidance,” the Q&A says. “Should a career center wish to utilize permissible state or local resources to support the marijuana/cannabis industry, clear documentation must be maintained and related funding sources must be closely tracked and auditable.”

Job seekers could also potentially fund their own training, the document says.

One complicating factor is that some hemp businesses in the state are also active in the marijuana industry. MassHire said that if an employer “has an ‘active’ industrial hemp license issued by [the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR)] and/or if the employer’s name appears on MDAR’s listing of licensed industrial hemp growers, [MassHire Career Centers] can provide services to these employers and jobseekers seeking employment related to industrial hemp.”

The state-legal marijuana industry in Massachusetts, meanwhile, continues to grow. In December, the state set a new monthly sales record of  $158.7 million worth of legal cannabis products, according to figures released by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission—bringing the state’s total recorded sales for 2023 to nearly $1.8 billion.

Reforms around psychedelics in the state are also in the works.

With a psychedelics legalization initiative pending before lawmakers ahead of a potential vote on the November ballot, a legislative committee earlier month advanced a separate bill that would legalize psilocybin therapy in the commonwealth and set up a framework to license facilitators who would supervise medical, therapeutic and spiritual applications of the drug.

The development comes on the heels of local leaders in the city of Medford adopting a resolution to deprioritize arrests around psychedelic plants and fungi and also urge county prosecutors to stop pursuing cases of possession, cultivation or distribution of the substances.

Medford is the eighth Massachusetts city to adopt such a policy, along with SalemSomervilleCambridgeEasthamptonNorthamptonAmherst and Provincetown.

The activist-backed legalization initiative now before state lawmakers, meanwhile, would create a regulatory framework for lawful and supervised access to psychedelics at licensed facilities. It would also legalize the possession and gifting of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca, but it would not otherwise provide for commercial retail sales of the substances.

After activists collected an initial batch of signatures from voters, the legislature now has the choice of enacting the reform, proposing a substitute or declining to act entirely. If lawmakers decide not to legalize psychedelics by May 1, activists would then have until July 3 to submit at least 12,429 additional valid signatures to put the proposal before voters on the November 2024 ballot.

Separately, Gov. Maura Healy (D) last month drew attention to testimony around a veterans-focused bill that she’s introduced to create a psychedelics work group that would study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin.

Another bill would authorize the Department of Public Health to conduct a comprehensive study into the potential therapeutic effects of synthetic psychedelics like MDMA.

Rep. Mike Connolly (D) also filed a bill in 2021 that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing on studying the implications of legalizing entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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