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First Recreational Cannabis License Could Go To Leicester Marijuana Dispensary

A medical marijuana dispensary in central Massachusetts is in line to receive the first retail cannabis license in Massachusetts.

The Cannabis Control Commission on Monday will vote on whether Cultivate Holdings in Leicester will be the first company allowed to sell recreational cannabis products to anyone over the age of 21. Cultivate has been operating a medical marijuana dispensary in the town since late 2017.

But even if the provisional license is approved by the commission next week, it may still be weeks or even months before the first retail cannabis purchase is made. (Legal sales could begin as early as Sunday.)

Investigators from the Cannabis Control Commission will need to inspect the store, located in a former tool and die building off of Route 9. And the owners must arrange to have their fingerprints taken, and compared with prints on a national criminal database.

Cultivate Holding's president, Sam Barber, seemed surprised his company is first up for a retail license.

“It’s a pretty exciting time,” he said. “We’ve been kind of lining up everything and felt good about it but I was not expecting to get that call this morning."

Once it has a license in hand, Cultivate — and all retail marijuana businesses — still have to deal with supply chain and inventory issues. Under the existing Department of Public Health regulations that govern the medical marijuana program, Cultivate is allowed to grow cannabis for its patients in the same building as its dispensary.

But to sell on the recreational retail market, Cultivate will have to be granted a cultivator license from the Cannabis Control Commission, or purchase product from a licensed cultivator. So far, only one company, Sira Naturals of Milford, has been awarded a provisional cultivator license, though more are expected to be approved in the coming months.

The commission also still has to sort out what to do about testing products. Under the law, all cannabis products must be tested by an independent laboratory that is licensed by the commission. But so far, no license has been issued to a testing facility and the handful of labs that currently serve the state’s existing medical marijuana market have not yet submitted a completed application.

When Cultivate is finally allowed to make retail sales, it will be allowed to shift up to 65 percent of its inventory to the adult-use market. While that product has been tested under the DPH regulations, it remains to be seen if that's enough for it to be sold on the recreational retail market.

The town of Leicester, meanwhile, seems to be looking forward to being the first site for recreational cannabis sales. Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux says that's in part because of how well the relationship with Cultivate has gone.

“They were very upfront when they came in to set up their first dispensary and cultivation for medicinal marijuana,” he said. “They’ve been a great neighbor. They’ve been at events assisting the town not looking for any publicity on it, they’ve just been there to help."

While more than 80 Massachusetts communities have enacted bans on adult-use, recreational cannabis businesses, Leicester has welcomed shops and growers from the emerging industry. Besides Cultivate, two other companies are planning on opening growing facilities, and a fourth company is planning to talk with town officials next month.

“If all of the various companies ... actually come to fruition and actually do [as well] as they believe their marketing plans will do, it will mean probably over a million dollars a year to the town,” Genereaux said.

Genereaux doesn’t see the influx of cannabis business as causing a change to the town of around 11,000 people.

“Basically, if you think about it," he said. "Retail marijuana dispensaries, the way they’ve been set up through the state, are effectively package stores for a different type of material.”

For more updates on the industry, join WBUR's Facebook group, Green Rush: Cannabis in Massachusetts.

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Steve Brown Twitter Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's State House reporter.

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