The History of Cannabis in the Bay State
On November 19 last year, Massachusetts became the first East Coast state to allow recreational cannabis. The first retailers to serve adults were Cultivate Holdings in Leicester, and New England Treatment Access (NETA), in Northampton. These were both previously medical dispensaries. Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana in 2012. Recreational cannabis came in 2016 by voter initiative. But it wasn’t until last November that the program became a reality.
Vermont decriminalized cannabis before Massachusetts through legislation. D.C. also technically beat out Massachusetts. But neither of these have retailers serving the public. In Vermont, adults over 21 can cultivate at home and gift cannabis to other adults. Its the same in D.C. Although activists there wanted a full recreational program, Congress–who controls the district, blocked it.
Massachusetts however, is expanding its recreational program. Those two dispensaries that went recreational on November 20, just before Thanksgiving weekend, reported over $2.2 million in sales within the first five days. Each saw long lines. Cultivate in Leicester had at its height 500 people in line on opening day, and quickly ran out of product.
Less than a month later, a third dispensary opened in Salem. Today, there are a total of five active dispensaries for recreational sales in the state. Still, it’s far from a perfect system. Those who don’t live near one of the five endure long drives and difficulty parking. Some customers have even reported waiting in line for several hours before being served.
The Future of Cannabis in Mass.
With the advent of their recreational program, the state moved its medical program under the oversight of the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC). So far, patients have been able to receive their medicine with no hiccups and no complaints have been filed. On the rec side, customers complain that there aren’t enough retailers to meet demand.
This is going to change, industry watchers predict. Dozens of rec shops are expected to open this year. Chairman of the CCC Steve Hoffman told the Boston Herald, four to eight cannabis retailers are likely to open each month this year. With that, lines will die down, parking will become easier, and eventually, the price of flower and related products will likely fall.
Massachusetts has no vertical integration requirement. This is where retailers are required to grow and process the cannabis they sell. With no such requirement, industry watchers say, Massachusetts’s program could see a greater diversity of products and cultivars (strains) than where vertical integration is mandated. As such, a wider variety of cultivars and products should become available in Mass. rec shops by the end of 2019.
Social Consumption and Social Justice
The state is weighing social consumption too, like cannabis clubs or consumption rooms attached to dispensaries. There are still a lot of questions surrounding this. Should such venues allow smoking or just vaping? Would edibles be allowed? Another option Massachusetts is weighing is delivery, which is already available in California.
On another front, much like with many other states, one of the goals of the CCC is to help minorities who have been hurt by the Drug War break to into the cannabis industry. As such, Massachusetts has developed a social equity program. CCC authorities will be watching this closely to see if it meets its goals, and how to adjust aspects of the program to encourage more cannabis entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds.
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