At the end of this month, Massachusetts will officially allow retail sales of recreational cannabis.
Voters first approved legal pot in the November 2016 election. Originally the state had set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2018, for when licensed retailers could start selling. However, Mass legislators soon extended that date to June 1 of this year, wanting more time to study the effects of recreational cannabis in other states that have already passed such laws, like Colorado and Washington.
Now the retail market in Massachusetts is poised to open up as summer sets in. As the Bay State approaches this historic moment, we take a look at what you can expect from the early-goings of commercial marijuana in Mass.
Retailers Are Far From Ready
Although licensed retailers will have the legal go-ahead to open up shop, consumers will be hard pressed to find much product.
July 1 also happens to be the date when the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) will start authorizing retail or cultivation licenses. In the meantime, these businesses cannot grow product.
Even after license applications gain approval, the retail market will likely see a slow roll-out. Cannabis plants take time to grow and mature, usually many months, which means that available product will remain severely limited.
Moreover, Massachusetts law requires that potential licensees first perform local outreach by holding a public meeting, and also obtain a community agreement with their town or city, before the CCC will grant approval. This is another barrier against a rapidly developing retail market.
“I think it’s going to be sparse, let’s just be honest,” said CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman about the Mass cannabis retail market after July 1. “There are going to be some number of people that are up and running that have all the municipal approvals necessary and have the ability to have supply. It’s not going to be a large number”
“I really think it’s going to play out over six to twelve months past July first,” he added.
Many Municipalities Are Resisting
Despite the success of cannabis at the ballot box in 2016, the law has not exactly won widespread support among Massachusetts municipalities.
Towns and cities in the Bay State can vote on whether to permit pot retailers within their borders. So far, 189 of the 351 municipalities in the state have voted to ban retail stores, while most others have set restrictions against cannabis businesses.
While public opinion has increasingly swayed towards legal cannabis across the country, it’s important to remember that margins at the ballot have been closer. The Massachusetts law garnered more than 3 million total votes, with “Yes” carrying the day by a slim 53.66% majority.
Retail Will First Happen At Medicinal Shops
The initial retail sales of cannabis in Massachusetts will happen at existing medicinal stores. The CCC first considered and approved retail and cultivation applications from these shops, before the July 1 deadline, meaning that some may be up and running for consumers eager to purchase retail product.
Problem is that not all of these shops — there are only two dozen in the state — plan to enter the retail market immediately. In summer of 2018, there may be no more than a handful of retail cannabis destinations in the Bay State.
So while this is the first summer of retail cannabis for Massachusetts, the market will likely not reach maturation for at least another six months to a year.