BOSTON - The prospects that retail pot shops open in Massachusetts by a July 1 target appeared to be dimming Thursday, as the state's top marijuana regulator said he was more focused on an orderly rollout of recreational sales than a speedy one.
The Cannabis Control Commission met without issuing the first commercial business licenses under the law first approved by voters in 2016 and later revised by the Legislature. The current law allows retail sales of recreational marijuana to begin on or after July 1, six months later than the Jan. 1 date in the original ballot question.
But anyone planning to do some shopping for legal weed over the summer months may find few if any options.
Steven Hoffman, the commission's chairman, described July 1 as an "arbitrary deadline," and that while regulators hoped to begin issuing licenses "shortly," he could not offer a specific timeline.
"We have said from the start that July 1 is not a legislative mandate, it's our objective and we are going to try to meet that objective, but we are going to do it right," Hoffman told reporters.
In many cases, the panel was still waiting for an outside contractor to complete background checks required for marijuana applicants or for more information from cities and towns where those businesses would be located, he added.
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Dozens of municipalities around the state have imposed moratoriums on pot businesses or restrictions on where they may be located.
Regulators said of the 1,145 applications for business licenses that had been started on the commission's online portal since April 1, only 53 were fully complete and ready for final review. Seventeen of those applications were for retail facilities and 17 for cultivation operations.
Total Number of License Applications That Have Submitted All Required Packets By County (As of June 14th). pic.twitter.com/MocVJogYBv— MA Cannabis Control Commission (@MA_Cannabis) June 14, 2018
Of the 53 applications, officials said 36 came from entities that already operated medical marijuana dispensaries in the state and were bidding to add commercial sales.
Jim Borghesani, a cannabis business consultant and former Massachusetts spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the slow rollout of recreational marijuana sales was disappointing, but did not fault the commission. He pointed to cities and towns that were dragging their heels on executing host community agreements with prospective applicants.
"I think there are plenty of consumers who were looking forward to purchasing cannabis in a safe and legal location and most of them are going to have to wait," said Borghesani.
Hoffman has conceded that even when retail sales do get off the ground, outlets initially will be "sparse." Massachusetts regulators, he said, do not intend to rush toward deadlines as some legal marijuana states have done, only to encounter problems with product inventory or a lack of proper background checks.
"If that means we have few or no stores on July 1 and it takes a few more weeks, I hope everyone in the state believes that's the right thing to do," Hoffman said.
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