“It’s a perfect storm for corruption — the combination of a highly competitive industry and a mayor who was solely responsible for approving” the businesses, FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta said Friday.
His comments echoed those of US Attorney Andrew Lelling, whose office indicted Correia, and of Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn Cunha, who said he hoped the state would explore reforms.
The Fall River case has lent more urgency to a long-simmering debate over how much power cities and towns should have — and whether any outside watchdogs should oversee them — in picking winners and losers in the lucrative pot industry. Massachusetts is an outlier among states with legalized marijuana in its level of deference to municipalities, cannabis lawyers say.
“It really reiterates why further guardrails around these local marijuana decisions are necessary,” said state Senator Julian Cyr, who proposed a bill that would assign oversight of pot businesses’ payments to the state Cannabis Control Commission. He said the Legislature should also discuss whether to require municipalities to award licenses through a local voting body, rather than behind closed doors.
“If there’s any silver lining from the reprehensible actions of the mayor of Fall River, it’s that they’ll spur us to look at the issue more urgently,” Cyr said.
Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia.(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff)
Cannabis activists found the new momentum refreshing — and frustrating, as they have long complained that the current system invites corruption, lacks transparency, and favors wealthier companies.
State law requires each marijuana business to sign a contract with a town or city before it can apply for a state license.
The contracts, called host-community agreements, can include “impact fees,” intended to offset any costs to the municipality. State law limits the fees to 3