Massachusetts Begins Sale of Recreational Cannabis Products
November 20, 2018, saw the first legal recreational cannabis sales out of select dispensaries in Massachusetts. The sales mark the end of a two-year wait, from Massachusetts residents voting to legalize recreational cannabis, to the opening of an official retail market.
Under Massachusetts law, residents will now be able to purchase up to one ounce of cannabis flower or five grams of concentrate at a time for recreational use from the licensed dispensaries. A variety of cannabis-infused edibles are also on offer. Recreational sales are subject to a 20 percent tax, but medical marijuana cardholders will be able to buy larger quantities of products tax free. Additionally, medical marijuana patients will also benefit from separate medicinal cannabis sales desks in the dispensaries, which aim to ensure that patients are able to easily purchase their prescriptions despite the crowds anticipated in the early few weeks of sales.
Opening week records huge sales figures
In the run-up to sales beginning, there were concerns that the two licensed recreational cannabis dispensaries - Cultivate Holdings in Leicester and New England Treatment Access, or NETA, in Northampton - would be overwhelmed with demand. The two retailers are not only the first licensed dispensaries in Massachusetts, but the first across the whole of the East Coast, causing worry that prospective customers traveling to the dispensaries from out of state could create exceptional demand for products.
According to early figures released by the Cannabis Control Commission in Massachusetts, the sale of cannabis products between the two dispensaries totaled over $2.2 million in the first five days of business. Sales reached their peak on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when the gross sales of cannabis products between the two stores reached nearly $480,000 in a single day. In total, over 56,300 cannabis products were sold over the initial five-day window.
Encouragingly, despite long lines prior to opening, there have been no reported cases of product shortages at either of the two licensed dispensaries, which had been a common occurrence in the early days of other state cannabis markets.
Sales mark end of long delays
Now that the retail cannabis market is open for business, and by all accounts running like a well-oiled machine, residents of Massachusetts can begin to move past the long wait it took to get to this point.
Following the passing of the ballot measure designed to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, Massachusetts State Legislature indicated that it was their goal to have fully operational retail cannabis shops by January 1, 2018. However, merely two months after the passage of the ballot measure, legislators voted to delay the launch of a retail market until July 1, 2018, citing the need for extra time to agree and finalize an effective regulatory framework.
As recently as March this year, the Cannabis Control Commission was still finalizing their proposed regulations for the new recreational cannabis market. When officially filing the finalized version of their regulatory system, the Commission reported that they had held 10 listening sessions, 7 public hearings, and reviewed nearly 500 public comments in order to properly deliberate approximately 150 policy decisions that would affect the finalized system. By early April the first businesses were finally able to apply for cannabis business licenses.
While this regulatory review process did contribute to the state eventually missing their self-imposed deadline of July 1, much of the delay was due to the status of cannabis testing licensing in the state.
Cannabis testing in Massachusetts
Legally, for recreational cannabis products to be sold in the state they must first be tested and approved by a licensed testing laboratory. Issuing these licenses proved to be more complex than expected; in addition to all of the requirements testing facilities must meet in order to hold medicinal testing licenses, prospective recreational testing facilities are also required to sign host community agreements with the cities or towns where they will be based. As a result, testing laboratories situated in areas with local cannabis opposition groups can face significant extra barriers in the course of their application.
In mid-September, the applications of two medicinal cannabis testing facilities, CDX Analytics of Salem and MCR Labs of Framingham, for recreational testing licenses became the first to be approved in the state. At the time, these licenses were awarded on a provisional basis pending final inspections. Finally, in early November it was announced that both testing facilities had passed their inspections and were cleared to begin testing in the recreational market.
"When Massachusetts voters legalized adult-use cannabis, they communicated a desire to purchase products that are safely regulated and properly tested," explained the Commission’s Executive Director Shawn Collins to Boston 25 News, following the final approval of both labs. "The Commission has done scrupulous due diligence to make that vision a reality and ensure licensed independent testing labs maximize public health and public safety."