Monday June 11, 2018

By Erin Hiatt

Massachusetts Recreational Cannabis Update Travel

In late 2016 when the voters of Massachusetts had Question 4, the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, put before them, nearly 54 percent of voters checked the “yes” box. Legal marijuana dispensaries were expected to open for business on January 1, 2018, but efforts by the legislature moved the goal post, delaying the opening by six months to July 1, 2018. While the date for recreational dispensaries has been moved back once, it appears that will be the only delay.

Massachusetts approved its final regulations for the recreational cannabis industry in March, making the July 1st deadline seem like the real deal – although nothing is guaranteed.

In fact, the July opening date for recreational sales is not even a done deal, it is simply the earliest possible date for sales to begin. The Massachusetts Cannabis Commission only recently started accepting new business applications on April 1st. It is likely that some of the state’s 22 currently operating medical outlets will add recreational licenses. However, not all of them will be able to obtain or even want recreational licenses.

In anticipation of Massachusetts’ adult-use cannabis market opening up, here are a few things you should know.

Will Recreational Dispensaries be Open July 1?

Kamani Jefferson, President of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, a non-profit that works with state and local governments to ensure the safety and well-being of recreational marijuana consumers, businesses, and the public, has a blunt assessment of recreational market prospects come July 1st.

“I am going to be brutally honest,” Jefferson told PotGuide. “We will be lucky to see three, maybe five stores open in the whole state by July. The local level is beyond not ready for implementation.” Predicting a slow but gradual rollout that will linger into 2019, he also predicts a lag in tax revenues, around $50-75 million due to municipality concerns.

Recreational cannabis
There may be only a few places to obtain recreational cannabis in MA come July.

But, he sees an upside to the current situation. “There will be a ‘mom and pop’ feel to Massachusetts,” he continues. “There will obviously be corporations, but the start-up and craft markets thrive in this state. You’re going to see a lot of innovation.” He believes that, eventually, the Massachusetts recreational market will set the standard for the east coast.

In addition to few shops being open on the July 1st date, many experts believe there will be supply shortages as well. This is not uncommon however, as we’ve seen similar shortages in other new recreational markets like Nevada. At this point, many people believe recreational cannabis will be widely available in Massachusetts in early 2019.

Basic Laws and Regulations

For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to view the final rules surrounding recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, there are a few main regulations to be aware of.

Purchasing and Possessing Legal Cannabis

Once recreational marijuana dispensaries are up and running in Massachusetts, any adult 21 years of age or older will be able to purchase cannabis from a licensed facility. As it stands right now, adults may purchase:

Recreational Cannabis Purchasing Limits:

  • No more than 1 ounce of marijuana or,
  • No more than 5 grams of marijuana concentrate

It’s also important to note that there are some differences between how much cannabis adults may purchase in Massachusetts and how much they may possess. Possession limits are listed as follows:

Recreational Cannabis Possession Laws:

  • Up to 1 ounce of marijuana or,
  • Up to 5 grams of concentrate
  • Up to 10 ounces within an adult’s primary residence
  • Up to 6 marijuana plants per adult (Max 12 per household)


As seen in other states with progressive cannabis reform, consuming marijuana in public is strictly prohibited in Massachusetts and can result in a civil penalty fine of up to $100. Adults who wish to consume recreational cannabis must do so in private residences at this time.

State lawmakers have been discussing the possibility of social consumption lounges and licenses, but have chosen to hold off for the time being. While this means there’s still hope for social consumption lounges in the future, there will definitely be none open in July.

Legal Cannabis Roadblocks

Shortly after recreational cannabis’ rollout was postponed to July, legal marijuana in Bay State was hit with another roadblock, this time at the local level. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently reported that at least 189 of the states’ 351 municipalities have barred retail marijuana stores, and in most cases, cultivation and other operations. This is not good news for the nascent recreational market and current and potential consumers, since it will likely result in fewer shops and less access to cannabis – especially during the first few months of operation.

Given Massachusetts’ reputation as a liberal bastion, the foot dragging regarding the opening of recreational markets seems somewhat counterintuitive. However, political leaders, like the immensely popular grandson of Robert F. Kennedy (yes, those Kennedy’s) Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, a Democrat representing Massachusetts’ 4th District, has shown publicly that he is out of step with current research.

Joeseph Kennedy III
Joeseph Patrick Kennedy III may need to do some reading on the benefits of cannabis. photo credit

“I do have concerns about what an increase in availability of legal marijuana means for adolescents,” he recently told late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel (even though legal cannabis has shown to decrease teen marijuana use), “and what it means for folks who struggle with addiction and mental health.” Another member of the Kennedy clan, Ted Kennedy’s son and Joseph’s first cousin, Patrick Joseph Kennedy II, a former Democrat lawmaker in Rhode Island, is one of the co-founders of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a prohibition group working to stop legal cannabis regulations.

How is the State Handling the Rollout?

Efforts by the legislature appear to be successfully stymieing real access to the plant. In July 2017, they passed H 3818, which rewrote some parts of Question 4. Ultimately, H 3818 increased the excise tax on marijuana from 3.75 to 10.75 percent, bringing the total to 17 percent.

Additionally, it included two options for local control. In 2016, 260 municipalities approved Question 4 and 91 municipalities rejected it. The passage of H3818 allows the town boards or city councils in municipalities that rejected the measure to ban marijuana stores outright, whereas in municipalities where the majority of voters approved Question 4, a referendum is required.

H3818 also allows for local municipalities to make it more difficult to obtain a recreational license.

Under the law, local cities and towns are not allowed to implement excessively long moratoriums,  onerous zoning rules, bylaws, demand unlimited payments from operators, or other ”impracticable”  measures to prevent businesses from operating within their borders. However, they can require more than the state demands, including special permits and a local application process. Hopeful business owners must also host community meetings to negotiate “community agreements” with the city or town.

Proponents of legal marijuana have already reported that some municipalities have pushed new recreational applicants to the industrial-side-of town fringes, or created safe zones around schools and other establishments that make it nearly impossible to open anywhere in the vicinity. Such roadblocks may push recreational businesses out of the area entirely.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that Massachusetts has a long way to go to legitimize their recreational cannabis industry. And even though it may seem restrictive now, we’re excited to experience their market’s rollout and see where the future takes them! After all, progress can’t be made if there’s no industry in place to start with, right?

Be sure to visit PotGuide’s Massachusetts page frequently for the latest information on their fledgling recreational cannabis industry. We will be adding new dispensaries as they begin to open up and come online. In the meantime, be sure to check out our Massachusetts medical cannabis dispensary directory if you’re a qualified patient looking for a spot to purchase marijuana products!

What are your thoughts on Massachusetts’ new recreational cannabis industry? Comment below!

Erin Hiatt Erin Hiatt

Erin Hiatt writes about cannabis, psychedelics, hemp, politics, and drug policy reform for THC Mag and Freedom Leaf. She has also written for AlterNet and Vice. Erin's work and industry insights have been featured as the hemp and media specialist for the Cannabis and Hemp Association and as a guest on "In The Know 420," speaking on federal and international drug policy. Erin's background is in the entertainment industry, where she worked as a print model and actress on stage, film, television, and commercials. Erin is an avid hiker, trekking much of the southwest, and is a proud member of Actors Equity. You can follow her work on Wordpress, @erinhiatt on Twitter, and @erinisred on Instagram.

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