The Bay State has had what has to be one of the rockiest roads to full adult-use cannabis legalization. Since voters in Massachusetts said ‘Yes’ to legalization in November 2016, legislative hangups and puritanical posturing have pushed full implementation of the legal weed law back to July 2018. Yet from small municipalities to the state senate, opposition remains, with some fighting for yet further delays. In their turn, cannabis advocates are shaking their heads and champing at the bit. And that’s because the fact remains: full legalization is on the horizon. Here’s everything you need to know about the future of pot in Massachusetts.
Who Controls The Past…
If you’ve been following along with the headlines, you know representatives in Massachusetts have made one “dick move” after another following the state’s affirmative referendum on legalizing recreational cannabis.
From one point of view, the law the state is implementing seriously distorts the measure voters said yes to last November. A popular euphemism for the whole situation describes lawmakers’ relentless tinkering with the bill’s details as “compromise.”
But compromised might be a little more accurate.
The issue is that despite the fact that a majority voted in favor of medical cannabis in 2012, and a majority voted in favor of recreational in 2016, some people in Massachusetts just really do not want legal weed in their state.
For example, it took almost three full years, and a chilly protest outside the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2014, for the first licensed medical marijuana dispensary to open in June 2015.
Ironically, that kind of legislative inaction seems less problematic than the very active efforts by some lawmakers to delay recreational implementation and subvert the legal weed program’s viability.
Almost immediately after the ‘Yes’ vote on Question 4, the recreational use question, the state legislature passed its own bill to delay retail sales by six months, until July 1, 2018. On the ground, however, that delay could be even longer.
Then, in 2017, anti-cannabis Governor Charlie Baker signed another bill cooked up by the legislature changing nearly all of the significant provision in the law voters approved. Taxes? Up. Across the board; with a local option tax of three percent on top of a 10.75 percent pot tax and 6.25 percent sales tax.
…Controls the Future of Pot In Massachusetts
But perhaps most devastating to the fledgling cannabis program, the modified law now gives communities the option to ban the sale of recreational weed.
There aren’t even restrictions on districts that voted ‘yes’ on Question 4. Take-backsies, says Gov. Baker. Even if you said yes, now you can say no to legal weed sales in your town.
So far, 115 communities have installed temporary or permanent bans on recreational retail stores. So where will adults in Massachusetts buy the cannabis they’re entitled by law to purchase and consume?
And we haven’t even touched on the regulatory side of things. The back and forth regarding the nitty-gritty is eye-wateringly boring, and at times, mind-numbingly frustrating.
But at last, the gears seem to be turning in the right direction, monkey-wrenches notwithstanding.
Massachusett’s Department of Agriculture recently posted a job call for a full-time cannabis inspector. And in early 2018, the state has a number of deadlines for issuing regulations (March 15), accepting license applications (April 1) and establishing testing protocols (May 1).
And finally, June 1, 2018 is the day when the state’s Cannabis Control Commission can actually start handing out recreational licenses. Those licenses will permit sales 30 days after being issued.
So, theoretically, July 1 would be the earliest possible date that a retail sale of recreational weed would be possible.
Then again, nothing guarantees any retail stores will have received their licenses by then.
There is, nevertheless, hope in the fact that the law allows approved medical dispensaries to become dual-purpose medical and recreational shops. With 15 established and 100 with provisional registration from the DPH, these locations are likely to be the first to offer recreational products.
The Real Future Of Pot In Massachusetts Might Be In Industrial Hemp
There’s no question that the future of pot in Massachusetts has hinged on the battles over medical and recreational legalization. And in terms of cannabis people consume, the state is expecting a windfall of tax revenue.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue is anticipating retail sales between $375 million and $636 million in 2017 alone. Market analysts are predicting a combined $1.7 billion in sales from recreational and medical in 2021. That would net the state about $240 million in tax revenue.
Growing, selling and promoting the legal cannabis market should also create upwards of 17,000 full and part-time jobs.
But outside the limelight, the state’s hemp industry is also poised to be a major player in the future of pot in Massachusetts.
Voters didn’t just approve recreational cannabis markets. They also said yes to lifting restrictions on industrial hemp cultivation.
Some investors estimate industrial hemp could dwarf the medical and recreational sectors of the cannabis industry.
Back To The Future Of Pot In Massachusetts
When the world keeps spinning after legal cannabis finally arrives in Massachusetts, perhaps the legislators who worked so tirelessly to stymie its progress will realize that much of the fear and fuss was for nothing.
But for now, this week’s State House News Forum will have to suffice. There, everyone from patients to physicians to politicians and the public were able to explore every facet of legalization.
The first panel focused on policy and political questions. The second, on entrepreneurial opportunities. Hopefully, the forum will initiate a more open and transparent discussion about the inevitable future of pot in Massachusetts.