BOSTON — Recreational marijuana sales surged in 2021 as Massachusetts emerged from the pandemic, but the industry’s business complexities remained stagnant.
Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, becoming the seventh state to do so. However, since the state only licensed sales in 2018, the industry got off to a slow start here.
“The legislature just got everything out of the gate six months to rewrite the initiatives,” Jim Borghissani, director of communications for Yes on 4 said in 2016. Massachusetts was the only state that rewrote the voter-passed law on marijuana legalization.
“There has been a slower licensing process by the CCC than in other states and for no good reason,” Borghissani said.
Then the industry suffered major setbacks during the pandemic, such as the inclusion of cannabis retailers on Gov. Charlie Baker’s list to close non-essential businesses in 2020. This upset many in the industry who were angry that they were forced to close when liquor stores were not.
“We should be treated just like a package store,” said public policy law attorney Jim Smith who often represents cannabis customers. “In fact, our product is much less dangerous, much healthier, and less alcoholic. It is a clear double standard.”
The closure of these institutions has given the illegal market a lifeline in the state when the main goal of CCC and marijuana legalization is to close these markets and create legal consumers.
“Legal products are being tested and safe, and nobody knows what’s in those corners, but with that being said, there’s still some growth there,” Smith said, “in turning the illicit market into a legal one.”
Zoning issues have also been an issue for marijuana license applicants in the state. For one, there can be no dispensary within 500 feet of a School. The intended location must also comply with local municipal ordinances for marijuana establishments in their community. Organizations must also adhere to host community agreements, which can even include a community impact fee of up to 3%.
“They have to either spend a fortune to buy a place to start or spend a fortune to rent it,” Smith said.
Once the applicant finds a location, only then can they start applying for permits. The process must pass through the city or town and then they must abide by the host community agreement with the local selection board or city council.
Once the Host Community Agreement is prepared, applicants can go to the Cannabis Control Commission to begin the process of formally becoming a licensed institution. According to both Borghissani and Smith, some applicants have to wait up to 18 months before they can receive their license, which means applicants may be paying rent for that long before they start making a profit.
“At this point, you would have to spend $1.5 to $2 million just to open a simple retail store without a farming license,” Smith said.
The Social Justice Program is one of the initiatives to combat these issues, which was established by the CCC in 2018. The a program “It creates sustainable pathways in the cannabis industry for the individuals most affected by the war on drugs, marijuana bans, disproportionate arrest, and imprisonment.”
But despite the free help for individuals interested in joining the industry, Borghissani and Smith, who work with some of the social justice program applicants, say that doesn’t cover the monetary part of the process. Many applicants for a social justice program are small operators who have less access to capital than other applicants.
“It’s all about acquiring capital, there are bearing costs, consultant costs. You can’t go to a bank and get a loan for any of this,” said Borghissani, who has seen applicants for the Social Equality Program suffer firsthand.
Many applicants are still working their way through the process as CCC continues to review more applicants.
With sales already soaring, the forecast for marijuana sales in the state looks enormous over the next few years. Although the pandemic has negatively affected other businesses across the state, the cannabis industry continues to grow during the pandemic.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, retail cannabis sales in the state have exceeded $1 billion so far. general. This is remarkable as the total sales were only in 2020 $696 million, nearly half of sales so far this year and it’s only October.
Sales prove that there is demand here in Massachusetts for legal marijuana, but meeting that demand has been a long way to go. over there Limit About the amount of products consumers can buy in legal institutions due to lack of supply.
“Supply is finally starting to meet demand,” Borjani said, a positive sign for the industry, even if the country has been slower than others through the process.
Roesli Arena writes in the Official Gazette of the Boston State University Program.