A final set of regulations has been written to govern the burgeoning marijuana industry in Massachusetts. It sets the stage for the start of retail pot sales on July 1st. But it is unknown how many marijuana stores will open in the state then and where.
The five-member Cannabis Control Commission approved the final set of regulations after a series of public hearings and three days of debate.
Now that the rules are in place, the next deadline the commission faces is April 1st, when it must start accepting applications for state licenses to produce and sell marijuana. Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman said the regulators still plan for marijuana sales to begin July 1st.
"Our intent is to have a go on July 1 and we are hitting all of the deadlines that we have in the legislation, so I am feeling good about that," said Hoffman.
The final set of regulations will mean a less expansive launch to legal marijuana in Massachusetts than commissioners had first envisioned. Following criticism from Gov. Charlie Baker, and others, the commissioners decided to delay licensing home delivery and places where marijuana could be used on the premises.
" I think the sum total of input yielded a better set of regulations," said Hoffman.
Hoffman said a priority of the commission now is to work with municipalities because marijuana businesses must be licensed at both the state and local levels.
" We can't dictate whether cities and towns approve, we can't dictate the pace, so we are relying on collaborating with them as we've done all along," said Hoffman. " I'm comfortable now that they have final regulations that they can react to and hopefully address some of their concerns, we're comfortable they'll move at a consistent pace with what we're doing."
How many marijuana stores might open in Massachusetts when pot sales become legal on July 1st is anybody’s guess at this point, according to Hoffman.
"Once, I think, we start accepting applications which is April 1st, we'll be in a much better position to give a forecast about that," said Hoffman. "But right now I have no idea how many applications we're goig to get."
Communities are in various states of preparedness for the arrival of legal marijuana businesses. Some have drafted local ordinances, but many have not.
Phil Dromey, Deputy Director of Planning for the city of Springfield, said, as of now, the city is not accepting applications from people looking to open a marijuana business.
"We don't currently have a process in place on how that would work," said Dromey. " As we did with the medical marijuana, we would draft regulations about how that process would work. Are they going to need a special permit? What zones would they be allowed? How far away from schools and churches? Similar to the process we went through with medical marijuana."
Springfield took a very deliberative approach to approving medical marijuana dispensaries. The City Council approved a special permit in 2016 for a single dispensary which has yet to open for business.
Part of the new state regulations include required labels on all packages of marijuana sold in retail stores. One must be a red triangle with a black marijuana leaf inside. Underneath the triangle are the words, "CONTAINS THC." The second; printed inside a red octagon the warning: "NOT SAFE FOR KIDS.”
The regulations also prohibit anyone with a criminal conviction for trafficking in drugs, other than marijuana, from holding a job with access to marijuana plants.