Mass. Recreational Pot Industry Won't Just Line Pockets Of Big Businesses, Regulators Say

Download Audio
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Cannabis cafes, home marijuana delivery, THC-infused spa treatments. All are expected to be realities in the not-too-distant future, as the state's Cannabis Control Commission transforms policy into regulations this week. Those regulations will govern what is likely to become a multibillion-dollar business.

Who Will Be The Moneymakers?

One of the fears shared by some cannabis supporters in Massachusetts has been that, once OK'ed, the industry would be dominated by big, deep-pocketed businesses that would squeeze out smaller entrepreneurs looking to get a foothold in the emerging industry.

But regulators say they are looking out for the interests of people who, in the past, may have been in legal trouble for activities involving marijuana that the new law no longer criminalizes.

"It's a little crazy that people are making a lot of money, but then other people are still in jail," said Kamani Jefferson, president of the the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council. In his view, there are many communities — including people who've done jail time for pot — that have been disproportionately affected by the state's previous prohibition of marijuana.

"I think just trying to bridge that gap of the moneymakers and the people coming out of jail is very important for future generations in creating wealth," Jefferson said. "You want to create wealth. You know, we just don't want to get people jobs, we want to help create economic empowerment."

To help, the cannabis commission has decided to keep application and license fees relatively low.

For example, someone looking to open a retail pot shop would pay a $300 application fee, and if granted, would be charged $5,000 a year for a license.

Certain entities would have their application fees waived if they're determined to be an equity applicant coming from one of those disproportionately affected communities. Criteria include residency, past nonviolent drug convictions for themselves or for someone in their family.

"If you come from a community where marijuana enforcement has been unfair, and there are disparities, you now are given a way to enter this industry in a way that's fair, so that you just have some help starting your business and getting to be involved in the wealth that is being built," said Shaleen Title, who is a member of the Cannabis Control Commission.

Home Delivery — But No 'BYOC'

In addition to wealth, the industry is sure to bring a cultural change to Massachusetts.

Adults over the age of 21 will not only be able to purchase marijuana products from retail stores, but also they'll be able to have it delivered directly to their home — even if their home is in a community that has banned cannabis businesses. Customers would have to show IDs proving they're of age, and sign for deliveries.

The commission also has decided it will issue so called "social consumption" licenses. They are businesses where patrons can consume cannabis on the premises. But the commission will hold off until October at the latest on whether to allow smoking at these venues.

One thing that will be prohibited at these social consumption sites however, is BYOC, or bring your own cannabis. Commissioner Kay Doyle said just like a bar where outside alcohol is prohibited, patrons must purchase only from licensed venues.

"We would like to make sure the products are as health protective as possible," said Doyle. "At this time, I just don't have the level of reassurance that I'd want that BYOC products are going to be the same standards that are going to be required for products purchased from a licensed entity."

The commission must have final regulations in place by March 15, and begin accepting license applications by April 1.

Chairman Steve Hoffman said he predicts that after the industry is up and running it will reflect what the voters had indicated when they wanted when they approved Question 4 last year.

"I will not make a forecast about how many cities and towns, but it will be broadly accessible, it will be secure, it will be safe," he said. "It will be characterized by a combination of bigger and smaller players: minorities, women, veterans will be well represented in the industry."

The general public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the regulations, during public hearings in February.

This segment aired on December 18, 2017.


Headshot of Steve Brown

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



More from WBUR

Listen Live