Massachusetts reaches a milestone today in the introduction of the legal marijuana industry to the state.
As of noon Monday, businesses can apply online to grow marijuana, process it, and legally sell pot to adults in Massachusetts.
Prior to the beginning of the process, Steve Hoffman, chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, said it was anybody’s guess how many companies might seek a license to start selling pot to the public later this year.
" I have no idea how many applications we are going to get", Hoffman told reporters last month.
The initial applications are restricted for businesses that qualify for an expedited review by state regulators. These include already licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and companies that have been set up in such a way that it benefits communities that had high rates of arrests when marijuana was prohibited.
There are 22 medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts. The operators of facilities in Northampton and Easthampton both plan to seek approval to sell recreational marijuana, according to published reports.
With the law allowing for legal pot sales to adults to begin this July, Hoffman has pledged the commission’s staff will work diligently to process the applications for state licenses. But whether people will be able to walk into stores on July 1st and purchase marijuana really depends on local government officials.
" We can't dictate whether cities and towns approve. We can't dictate the pace," said Hoffman.
Before a marijuana business can operate it must satisfy local ordinances, hold a public hearing, and negotiate a local host community agreement. Cities and towns can charge a local tax up to 3 percent on each retail sale.
Marijuana businesses face roadblocks at city and town halls. Already, more than half the municipalities in the state have imposed outright bans or temporary moratoriums on the recreational marijuana trade.
Just last week, the Springfield City Council voted unanimously to put a moratorium in place until the end of September. City Councilor Adam Gomez, who chairs the council’s Economic Development Committee, said the moratorium gives the city time to put local regulations and zoning in place.
" We are doing this the right way and the safe way and make sure these facilities are actually going to bring an economic development into the city of Springfield," said Gomez.
Mindful that it was the voters who legalized marijuana, Gomez said city councilors don’t want to needlessly delay the opening of pot stores, but he said there is also only one chance to get the local rules and regulations right before that first store opens.
"We are putting hard work into it making sure we are following the right guidelines to protect the residents of Springfield," said Gomez.
As was the case with medical marijuana, there is a good deal of local control over recreational marijuana, according to Phil Dromey, Deputy Director of Planning for the city of Springfield.
" Are they going to need a special permit? What zones would they be allowed? How far from schools and churches? We are going to move as quickly as we can to get regulations in place to get these up and running." said Dromey.
Springfield and other municipalities have been working with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to craft local regulations for the marijuana industry.