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Still Some Weeks To Go Before Retail Cannabis Sales In Mass. Begin

A Canopy worker takes clippings off a marijuana plant to be cloned. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
A Canopy worker takes clippings off a marijuana plant to be cloned. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The wait continues.

It may be several weeks before the first legal adult-use cannabis sale takes place.

To date, the state Cannabis Control Commission has granted only five provisional licenses to two companies. Only one of those licenses is for a retail store. That license went to Cultivate Holdings in Leicester.

More are expected to come down the line, but the process has been slow, frustrating marijuana proponents, as well as one legislator who is a key author of the state’s marijuana law.

“It seems to be some of the focus has not been on doing exactly what is necessary for a July 1 rollout,” said Democratic state representative Mark Cusack, of Braintree, who is the house chairman of the Legislature’s joint committee on marijuana policy.

Cusack criticized the commission for spending time discussing draft regulations for social consumption licenses, often known as cannabis cafes, where marijuana would be sold and consumed on site, as well as delivery services he says are prohibited by the law.

“The law is clear that if there is to be delivery it has to be from a registered marijuana dispensary. It's not going to be someone driving around in a car like Uber Eats,” said Cusack. “We're not going to replicate the black market that is today, and we have commissioners wasting public meeting time and discussing regulations that are either years off or cannot happen legally.”

Another big barrier to the beginning of retail sales: the Cannabis Control Commission has not yet licensed any independent testing laboratories. By law, any cannabis product sold in Massachusetts must be tested by a licensed lab, and even though there are four labs licensed by the Department of Public Health for medical marijuana, a separate license from the commission must be issued for the adult-use market.

Three labs have begun the process of applying, while one has submitted all four packets of their application and is awaiting action by the commission. Still, Cusack says the industry regulators should have done more outreach to the labs to let them know early on what they needed to do.

“The Cannabis Control Commission certainly should have been working in the months before the July 1 deadline to reach out to these companies and let them know the steps they have to go through,” said Cusack.

While not responding directly to Cusack’s criticisms, Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman defended his agency’s work, and said he doesn’t think he would have done anything differently.

“I'm pretty proud of what we've done and how we've done it and how quickly we've done it,” Hoffman told reporters after the commission meeting on Thursday. “You know it's hard to lose sight of the fact that nine months ago, or 10 months ago now, we started with no staff, no money and no offices, and I think we've accomplished a lot."

Hoffman acknowledged the frustration many have expressed because retail stores did not open on July 1 as many had expected. The original marijuana law that voters passed by referendum in November 2016 spelled out clearly that retail sales were to begin on January 1, 2018.  The Legislature initially delayed all dates in the law by six months, moving the start date for sales to July 1, 2018.

But when the Legislature re-wrote the law a year ago, that start date was removed from the language, with the law only stating the Cannabis Control Commission could not begin to issue any licenses until June 1, 2018. Hoffman has said repeatedly over the past 10 months that July 1 retail sales was a target date — but not a hard and fast deadline.

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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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