More than a year after residents voted to legalize cannabis, Massachusetts' adult-use marijuana industry finally has a concrete set of regulations, and will begin accepting business applications next month.
According to Mass Live, the Bay State Cannabis Control Commission passed the package of recreational rules in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, implementing standards for legal weed warning labels, cultivation limits, licensing, and more. With the newly-passed regulations now in place, state commissioners are confident the industry will be up, running, and making sales by a target start date of July 1st.
"As I said, we need to make sure our staff is in place, we need to make sure we have our technology in place, but our intent is to have a 'go' on July 1," Steve Hoffman, chairman of the state's Cannabis Control Commission, told reporters after Tuesday's vote. "And we are hitting all of the deadlines that we have in the legislation. So I'm feeling good about that."
Once those retail cannabis sales start, all products will be labeled with a weed leaf warning label, patients with valid medical recommendations will be able to skip any long recreational-use lines, and, to dissuade any shady under-the-table dealings, "secret shoppers" will make frequent compliance checks.
Massachusetts residents and tourists alike will be able to make purchases at the state's licensed pot shops, but commissioners have, for the time being, banned any potential cannabis delivery businesses or social use venues. In legal weed states like California and Nevada, a lack of social use spaces have already become a sticking point for tourists and local renters who say they have been left without a legal and safe place to consume the plant. In Colorado, social use cafes are now beginning to open, some four years after legal sales first began.
Outside of retail, cannabis commissioners also passed regulations for cultivation, capping grow sites at 100,000 square feet, or 2.3 acres. Massachusetts regulators said that the agreed upon ceiling was large enough to allow local growth, but sufficiently restrictive to dissuade black market diversion and large-scale agriculture companies from dominating the nascent industry.
Residents with past cannabis-related convictions will be encouraged to shed the drug's stigma and enter the legal market, but commission rules will unequivocally ban any person with a rap sheet for trafficking other, non-weed narcotics from industry employment.
Now that regulations are in place, the commission plans to begin accepting applications for all types of canna-business licenses in only three weeks, starting April 1st. Because potential ganjapreneurs have been waiting patiently since late 2016 to finally submit their business plans, the number of applications waiting in the wings remains a mystery.
"I have no idea how many applications we're going to get," Hoffman told reporters on Tuesday.
No matter how many cultivation, processing, and retail permits the state hands out, though, meeting the July 1st sales start goal will also depend on the will of local municipalities. With separate city or county licenses acting as the final barrier to full legal status, it is still unclear how many pot shops will actually be ready to open their doors this summer. In California, local licensing prevented dispensaries in Los Angeles and San Francisco from joining the rest of the state's January 1st adult-use sales start earlier this year.
If all goes according to plan, Massachusetts will be the first state on the East Coast to welcome adult-use retail cannabis sales, passing regulators in Maine, Vermont, and New Jersey in the eastern seaboard's legalization race.
Follow Zach Harris on Twitter