More than a year after legalizing recreational marijuana, Massachusetts begins cannabis retail licensing process today. The state Cannabis Control Commission will be accepting applications for cannabis business licenses in anticipation of legal retail sales later this year. Massachusetts voters legalized recreational pot in 2016.
Activists and regulators alike are enthusiastic about the opening of the permit process. Lester Grinspoon is a former professor of psychiatry at Harvard. He has been a leader in the struggle for legal cannabis in Massachusetts since the 1970s. And at 89 years old, he wasn’t sure he’d be around to see it.
“I speculated this could happen, but I never dreamed that I would live to see it. It certainly is gratifying,” Grinspoon told the Boston Globe.
The progress also pleased Steve Hoffman, the chairman of the cannabis commission.
“It’s an exciting step. It’s starting to become real,” he said.
State Taking Applications In Three Phases
The Cannabis Control Commission will be accepting applications for cannabis business permits in three phases. The first phase includes existing medical marijuana dispensaries and companies known as “economic empowerment applicants.” These are businesses who employ, benefit, or are owned by members of communities disproportionally affected by the War on Drugs.
Jim Borghesani is a spokesman for Regulate Mass, an activist group working to have cannabis regulated like alcohol in Massachusetts. He told local media the state is giving these companies priority in an attempt to address and compensate for past inequities in enforcement.
“A lot of these are urban areas where people were adversely impacted by prohibition because of the disproportionate number of arrests for people of color compared with people who are Caucasian,” Borghesani said.
The commission will begin accepting applications for the first phase on April 16.
Cultivators and certain small business can then submit applications beginning May 1. Manufacturers, distributors, and retail stores can apply for their licenses starting on June 1.
Regulators expect that retail cannabis sales will begin in Massachusetts sometime after July 1.
It isn’t easy for a company to successfully navigate the state’s cannabis application process. Strict regulations require applicants to submit a minutely detailed operations plan.
“You have to show a good business plan, a level of security that’s acceptable to the Cannabis Control Commission, making sure there’s no diversion of product into the black market,” said Borghesani.
The process isn’t cheap, either. Applicants must pay $500 just to submit their paperwork. The licenses themselves run from $3,000 to $10,000 each. Borghesani added that cannabis business usually can not take advantage of traditional modes of financing.
“It’s a problem because it’s still illegal at the federal level, and banks are worried about losing their federal charter,” he said.
Final Hit: Massachusetts Begins Cannabis Retail Licensing Process
Some applicants have already begun t0 prepare for the application process, despite all the red tape. Norton Arbelzaez is the director of government affairs for New England Treatment Access. His company operates a growing operation in Franklin, Massachusetts and medical marijuana dispensaries in Brookline and Northampton. The firm has already prepared its application, he reports.
“We’ve got our incorporating documents, financial statements, operating agreements — all that stuff — ready to go,” he said.