What You Need To Know About Recreational Marijuana In Mass.

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A budding mature marijuana plant. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A budding mature marijuana plant. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This post, originally published on June 25, has been updated. 

It's been almost two years since voters passed the law legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana in Massachusetts. And while it's legal to use cannabis, there's still nowhere to legally buy it.

That's expected to change in the next few weeks, as shops get up and running.

So what’s this new industry going to look like? What do users need to know? We asked you for your questions, and we have some (updated) answers.

Where can I buy marijuana?

Starting Tuesday, Nov. 20, two shops will be open: New England Treatment Access in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester. More are expected to open in the coming weeks.

Part of the holdup was the lack of testing labs to inspect the product, but now two labs — MCR in Framingham and CDX Analytics in Salem — have the final OK from the CCC.

If you have a medical card, there are 40 open registered medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. NETA and Cultivate Holdings are also medical marijuana dispensaries.

I thought retail shops could open July 1?

Under the law, they could have, but none had final licences from the CCC on that day. The commission has long said not to expect Massachusetts to look like Colorado — which has a robust retail industry -- right away.

What towns, as of now, are open to having marijuana shops opening up? — Kevin

That number is shifting. As of now, there are about 70 communities that have a ban on the books, and about 160 more cities and towns have a moratorium of some sort in place, though most of those moratoriums are expiring at the end of this year.

Will towns that ban cannabis businesses or enact moratoriums still receive tax dollars generated from sales of cannabis products within Massachusetts? — Joe Crinkley

Yes. They’ll share in the statewide 17 percent sales and marijuana excise taxes that are generated from the sale of cannabis, because that money goes into the state's general fund, and all communities benefit from that. The communities that have enacted bans and moratoriums of course will not get the optional local tax, which can be up to 3 percent for a marijuana-friendly town.

Those city and town positions could change. As we said, most of those moratoriums expire at the end of the year.

What does the law say about possession and consumption for adults over 18 but under 21? — Dave

Only adults 21 or older can legally purchase and possess marijuana, except for those who are registered patients. If you're over 18 but under 21, you face a civil penalty of $100, and need to complete a drug awareness program.

I live in New Hampshire, work in Massachusetts. Can I buy marijuana for recreational use in Mass.? -- Anonymous

Yes, but you may have a hard time finding some place where you can legally consume the product you purchase. Taking it home over the state line isn't legal under federal law, and consuming it in Massachusetts at a public place is illegal under state law. If you live in New Hampshire and have a friend who owns a home in Massachusetts, you could legally consume it on your buddy's couch.

For medical marijuana, there was a required registration into a database of users. Will the state be keeping track of who buys [recreational]? — Leah

Cannabis businesses are not required to capture any vital information, other than to check an ID to make sure a customer is 21 -- sort of like they do at a liquor store.

How does this affect medical marijuana? I am beginning the process of getting a medical marijuana card. Would this still be necessary? — Anonymous

That's a personal call. Medical marijuana is currently tax free. You'd have to do the math to figure out if the cost of maintaining your card is less than what you would pay in tax for your supply. Medical patients will also have access to separate lines and a separate supply. (Here's more on medical marijuana.)

When dispensaries start selling recreational cannabis, will there be a shortage of medicinal cannabis to registered medical marijuana patients? — Max

There likely will be a rush on supply once the adult-use sales are available. But the Cannabis Control Commission has instructed medical dispensaries to reserve 35 percent of their inventory for sale only through the medical marijuana program.

Once I finally am able to buy marijuana, where can I use it? 

At home -- that is, if you own your house. If you have roommates or a landlord who doesn't want you smoking there, you might be out of luck. Landlords can place restrictions on whether you can smoke in your home, just like they can with cigarettes. And you can't smoke in public, or anywhere where you're prohibited from smoking tobacco.

What about bringing a cannabis-infused brownie into a movie theater, and snacking on it during the previews? 

Setting aside the movie theater policy of no outside food for a moment, eating that cannabis-infused brownie is public consumption of cannabis, and that is not allowed under the law.

Will cannabis “cafes” — i.e., places to both buy and consume — be legal? — Tim Cox

After initially putting the question about so-called “social use” on hold, a cannabis commissioner now says it’ll be years before any cafes or other gathering spots for using marijuana will open.

The commission has the authority to license these types of businesses, but it says it wants to wait to see how other states and cities are handling it. A decision is expected early next year.

What about other ways to consume cannabis? 

Smoking is probably the most obvious, old school way of getting high. There’s vaping, where cannabis in the form of flower, oil or wax is heated up to a vapor that’s nearly odorless. There are edibles, which have THC infused in them. And there’s all sorts of pills and topical creams and tinctures that are really unobtrusive.

Any recommendations if I haven't gotten high in awhile? 

We asked Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title for her advice. Here's what she said:

I would recommend starting low. The benefit of vaping or smoking is you can very consciously adjust the amount you're using because you’ll feel it right away. So you can take one puff. And then slow down and see how you feel and then decide.

If you want to take an edible I would start at one serving, which has been designated at 5 milligrams. Give it two hours and see how you feel. And the next time you can take a little more if you want. But it’s much better to start low than accidentally take too much and not feel well.

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

This article was originally published on June 25, 2018.

This segment aired on June 25, 2018.


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


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Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.



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