Massachusetts recently became the seventh U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana. Voters approved the measure in 2016, but it became a reality on July 1. Adults age 21 and over can now legally purchase marijuana in licensed state dispensaries, just in time for the July 4th holiday. Unfortunately, however, there are still no licensed dispensaries running yet in Massachusetts.
Most states that have legalized cannabis do in fact run behind the power curve in opening dispensaries on time. The process of setting up a legal market in a state is very time consuming, and there is usually a significant wait for businesses to obtain licensing. Added to that is the time it takes to establish all the regulatory requirements and obtain a full inventory for the dispensary — it can be a waiting game.
It will likely be later this summer before the first recreational dispensaries open. On July 2, the state Cannabis Control Commission issued the first state license, a provisional permit, for marijuana retailer Cultivate Holdings, based in Leicester.
The company’s president Sam Barber told U.S. News and World Report that they hope to have the first dispensary up and running in a few weeks. The company still has work to do, like facility inspection, employee background checks and checking all the boxes off the regulatory checklist.
Cultivate is not new to cannabis; the company currently operates a medical dispensary on Leicester’s Main Street. None of this wait changes the medical cannabis scene in Massachusetts. In the meantime, approved medical marijuana patients can still purchase cannabis at their licensed medical dispensaries.
Massachusetts has also awarded a growers license to Sira Naturals in Milford.
Unlike Massachusetts’ famous Boston Tea Party, which took place on one cold night in December 1773, the cannabis revolution in the state has taken a decade. It all began in 2008 when voters decriminalized cannabis. Four years later, the state legalized medical marijuana in 2012. Voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, but it has taken two years to make the vote a reality.
After the vote in 2016, the Massachusetts Legislature acted quickly to extend the timeline and muddied the waters regarding key aspects of the recreational cannabis law. In December 2016, a small group of state legislators met in a closed-door meeting and voted to delay the opening of recreational marijuana businesses. The legislative battles continued through the entire year of 2017 as well.
A year ago, in July 2017, the legislature finally constructed a compromise bill, which Governor Charlie Baker ultimately signed.
It has taken the state nearly a year to work out all the intricacies of the licensing process, finalized in March 2018. State residents are allowed to possess 10 ounces of cannabis inside their residence, but only one ounce outside of that residence. Several forms of cannabis—smoking, vaping, topicals, edibles and concentrates are all allowed forms. Adults can grow up to six plants, with a limit of 12 per household.
The five appointees that comprise the state’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) serve as the regulatory authority for licensing and regulating marijuana businesses. Massachusetts will issue licenses to four types of cannabis businesses: cultivators, stores/dispensaries, testing labs and product manufacturers. The CCC created 11 tiers of cultivator licenses, depending on the square footage of the growing facility. Tier 1 is 5,000 square feet, while Tier 11 is 100,000 square feet. Cultivators are required to sell at least 85 percent of their product within six months before they can apply for a license to expand their facility. Cultivators are certainly allowed to reduce production as well.