In November 2016, voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot initiative legalizing adult use. On October 4, the Cannabis Control Commission approved licenses for the first recreational dispensaries, but sales have not yet begun. “I think we’re weeks away,” said Steven Hoffman, the chairman of the commission, referring to some additional steps with the state’s tracking system that need to be taken before sales can begin.

Two of the first group of licenses have been awarded to Cultivate Holdings in Leicester and New England Treatment Access in Northampton. Both businesses already operate medical dispensaries. Cultivate Holdings also performs cultivation and manufacturing.

Delayed roll-out causing frustration

While proponents and potential customers have expressed frustration with the slow pace of implementation, Hoffman defended it, saying: “We’re doing it right, I’m very proud of the way that we’re doing it. We’re being careful, we’re being thorough.”

Establishment of a seed-to-sale tracking system is not the only thing that has made the pace of implementation so deliberate. The state’s adult use law requires the permission of municipalities before dispensaries may be licensed. From the point of view of businesses, some state legislators, and one of the members of the commission, this has resulted in excessive demands from municipalities.

Shaleen Title, one of the commissioners, has been vocal about her displeasure with what local governments have demanded of would-be retailers and other businesses. She raised the idea of checking the legality of the requests of the local governments. For example, news stories mention such requests as $263,000 to buy the local fire department some equipment. Another municipality asked for $500,000 over five years without specifying how the money would be spent. Such demands may be illegal, given that state law requires local governments to limit their fees to no more than 3 percent of the business’s gross sales. In addition, some of the state’s wealthier towns have simply refused permits to marijuana businesses, while poorer towns have been less demanding, leading to criticism of inequality of access.

Other causes for delays in implementation have better intentions than gouging new businesses, however. For example, in Oregon, recreational legalization has overwhelmed the medical program, leading to problems for providers and patients. In Massachusetts, the commission is taking steps to protect the medical program. Medical dispensaries that receive adult use licenses will be required to maintain 35 percent of their inventory for patients, and separate lines for patients are planned at New England Treatment Access.

The Application Process

Applicants for recreational businesses have had to pass a thorough process. This includes background checks for owners and employees, obtaining permission from the local government (which includes demonstrating compliance with zoning laws), a management and operations profile, setting up the tracking system with the government, inspections, and payment of fees. So far, 38 provisional licenses have been granted for retail sales, cultivation, and manufacturing. The commission has granted licenses to two testing labs–CDX Analytics and MCR Labs. Applicant laboratories have also faced hurdles similar to those of other businesses, including municipal requirements and unclear regulations on testing. Capacity is another issue, as all adult-use marijuana products must be tested, but the procedures are different from those applying to medical products.

Once Massachusetts begins retail sales, it will be the first state on the East Coast to do so. Other eastern states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering legalization through their legislatures, following the lead of Vermont. Although implementation is taking its time in Massachusetts, the state’s regulatory system, which after all has been created from scratch in a few years, may become the model for neighboring states.

What do you think? Is the slow-but-thorough implementation of Massachusetts something to be proud of? Leave a comment below.

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