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What To Know About Recreational Marijuana Sales in Massachusetts

What To Know About Recreational Marijuana Sales in Massachusetts

Hartford Courant, July 5, 2018

By Matthew Ormseth

July 1, a fated day in Massachusetts for advocates of recreational marijuana, came and went. The first day that stores were allowed to sell nonmedical cannabis passed without so much as a joint sold. No retailers had been licensed, and July 1 turned out much like any other day since December 15, 2016, when it became legal in Massachusetts to possess, grow and give away small quantities of cannabis.

But in the intervening year-and-a-half, no retailers have begun selling the drug. Advocates of its recreational use have grown frustrated at the retail rollout’s plodding pace.

On Monday, Massachusetts’ cannabis commission gave a provisional retail license to Cultivate Holdings in Leicester, but a spokeswoman for the commission said the company must pass an inspection and fingerprint its staff before it can begin selling cannabis. The commission has also awarded another company, Milford, Mass.-based Sira Naturals, licenses to grow and transport recreational marijuana.

With the Massachusetts marijuana market in flux, here’s what you need to know about recreational pot north of the Connecticut border, and what you can and can’t do with it:

1. Can I bring nonmedical cannabis from Massachusetts into Connecticut? No. Kelly Grant, a spokeswoman for the state police, said despite Massachusetts legalizing recreational marijuana, the troopers’ approach will be “the same as what we’re doing now – enforcing our state laws.”

“No matter what you choose to do in another state,” Grant said, “when you get back to Connecticut, Connecticut law applies in Connecticut.”

State police, who patrol the highways, will continue to monitor for marijuana use with DUI checkpoints and stops, she said.

2. What can I smoke in Massachusetts, and where can I smoke it? You can legally possess and grow nonmedical marijuana. You can also give it away, as long as you receive no money or services in exchange. If you’re 21 or older, you can carry up to an ounce of marijuana in the state, although no more than five grams can be in concentrate form.

You can grow cannabis and possess up to 10 ounces in your home, as long as you lock up any amount of marijuana exceeding an ounce. Fail to lock up your marijuana, and you’ll be hit with a $100 fine and have your cannabis confiscated.

You cannot smoke marijuana in public places — on the sidewalk, at the park or at the beach — and a police officer can give you a citation for smoking in your car.

3. When will recreational marijuana go on sale in Massachusetts? Sam Barber, president of the Leicester company that was awarded a retail license Monday, told reporters he planned to begin selling product “in the next few weeks.” His company has only been granted a provisional license, which means the cannabis commission must still inspect his facility and screen his staff.

Kamani Jefferson, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said the state would need hundreds of cannabis retailers — verging on a thousand — to meet demand. A marijuana tourism website, My420Tours.com, tallied the number of recreational dispensaries in Colorado earlier this year: 518, nearly double the number of Starbucks coffee shops in the state, the website said.

Shaleen Title, a member of the cannabis commission, wrote on Twitter that “more licenses are coming.”

“We are moving super fast,” Title wrote. “Our staff goes nonstop.”

All you need to know back to top

4. What’s the holdup? Jefferson, the recreational marijuana advocate, said the vetting process for retailers has stalled at the hyper-local level — the zoning boards and town councils that must approve site plans for dispensaries within their municipal limits.

“The state is doing the best they can do with the resources they have,” he said. “It comes down to the local level – they have most of the power in the situation.”

Local officials can also set the tax rate on marijuana sold within their city or town’s limits, up to 3 percent. Unlike medical marijuana, recreational cannabis will be taxed. The state plans to levy a 6.25 percent sales tax and 10.75 percent excise tax, and leave to the discretion of municipal officials an option to levy the local tax up to 3 percent.

Because of the taxes, recreational cannabis will likely be more expensive than black market product when it first hits the shelves, Jefferson said. But as the state grants more licenses and stiffens the competition, he expects prices to drop.

5. Where else is recreational marijuana legal in New England? Maine and Vermont. Maine legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2016, but until this May, the state had not put in place a plan to license retailers. Those 21 or older can possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to six plants in Maine.

Gov. Paul LePage had vetoed a bill that offered a framework to license and regulate marijuana retailers, but the state legislature overrode his objections in May. The state has since moved forward with its plans for a retail cannabis market, which could debut as early as next year.

Recreational cannabis became legal in Vermont on July 1. Those 21 or older can carry up to an ounce of cannabis and grow as many as six plants — two mature and four immature. But nowhere in Vermont can you purchase marijuana for nonmedical purposes, and the state has no designs for a retail market.

6. If there are no retailers for recreational cannabis in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, how do I get it? Regulators intended people who enjoy marijuana for recreational use to grow their own, at least until a legal retail market emerged. In Maine and Massachusetts, some entrepreneurs have used the so-called “gift” loophole to give away marijuana products while accepting “donations.”

The Portland Press Herald profiled a Biddeford, Maine, businessman who gives away his cannabis-infused hot sauces and brownies. His beneficiaries express their thanks with donations for “shipping and handling.”

7. Once retail cannabis sales begin in Massachusetts, how will it affect Connecticut? Some Connecticut dispensaries worry patients will eschew the state’s rigorous, expensive medical marijuana program once they can buy cannabis without a prescription in Massachusetts.

“It’s onerous – there’s hoops you have to jump through,” said Tom Nicholas, whose dispensary, Prime Wellness in South Windsor, is less than 20 miles from the Massachusetts border. Connecticut medical marijuana patients must renew their prescriptions with a physician and pay a $100 fee every year.

Nicholas urged the state legislature to keep pace with its New England neighbors and legalize recreational marijuana. A bill that would’ve done that was forwarded to the General Assembly by a committee — the first time a recreational marijuana bill made it out of committee in state history — but the legislation was never taken up for a vote.

“Why not have safe product to offer to adults?” Nicholas asked. “They’re breaking the law to buy it anyways. Why do we bury our heads in the sand about it?”