The first-ever legal home delivery of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts is in the books, a tentative step out of the shadows for a market that has long thrived underground.
Taunton-based Freshly Baked, co-owned by veterans Phil Smith and Jenny Roseman, made the historic delivery Monday afternoon. It was the first in a series of test runs before accepting orders from the public next week.
Accompanied by a colleague, Smith left the company’s edible manufacturing facility and headed to the nearby home he shares with Roseman, who stood in as the inaugural customer. After scanning her ID and resolving a minor glitch that necessitated connecting the credit card reader to the house’s Wi-Fi, Smith handed her a paper bag containing some rolling papers and a pack of Freshly Baked’s signature gummies. Transaction complete.
“It felt really good to be the first ones,” Smith said in an interview. “We worked very hard and long to get here, going back to when we were making gummies in our kitchen and dreaming about this day.”
The company’s delivery service will operate just two vans at first, one serving a roughly 15-mile radius around Taunton and another that will make daily pilgrimages to the lucrative Boston-area market. (Recreational deliveries can be made to any municipality that hasn’t banned retail pot shops.) To accept orders, the company is working with Lantern, an online cannabis delivery platform that was recently spun off from Drizly upon the latter’s acquisition by Uber.
Smith, who saw combat as a Marine in Iraq, and Roseman, a former Air Force medic who responded to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, said they bonded over their respective struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder — and the way cannabis helped them manage the accompanying bouts of extreme anxiety. They hope their homegrown business can help veterans who may be uncomfortable in crowded dispensaries, among others.
“For those folks who don’t want to leave the house, we get it, and we want to provide access,” Smith said.
As simple as it may seem in concept — online shopping and delivery is the norm in many industries, after all — plenty of work, complexity, and controversy went into Monday’s first-of-its-kind sale.
For one thing, Freshly Baked and other delivery operators must follow a series of stringent Cannabis Control Commission regulations.
Under the rules, vans must be unmarked, staffed by two employees, and equipped with a GPS tracker, cameras, and a secure storage area. They cannot operate as “rolling dispensaries” that carry a mix of inventory to be parceled out as orders arrive, instead carrying only pre-prepared orders for specific customers. As a result, all Freshly Baked deliveries will arrive the next day, which also gives the firm time to plot out an efficient route.
The commission also requires customers to submit their photo ID online for pre-verification. And every doorstep transaction must be filmed by a body camera, with the footage retained for 30 days, a measure meant to protect drivers from theft and guard against sales to minors.
Smith and others unsuccessfully fought against the body camera rule before the commission, arguing it would violate customer privacy. To fulfill the requirement, Freshly Baked worked with a security company that typically supplies car- and body-mounted cameras to police departments.
Meanwhile, Smith said, each delivery transaction relies on a cobbled-together chain of computer programs, including the online ordering platform, the company’s inventory software, the state’s “seed-to-sale” tracking system, the routing and dispatching programs that plot the van’s movements, and a mobile payment platform, among others.
“We were the first, so we had to ask [the various software providers] to do a lot of build-out to put the puzzle together and be compliant,” Smith said.
Then there was the process of cajoling the state to permit delivery in the first place, even though the 2016 ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts included the concept.
In 2018, the state Cannabis Control Commission backed away from its first attempt to launch legal recreational deliveries, which policy experts say are key to undermining the vast illicit pot market, after the administration of Governor Charlie Baker urged it to focus first on basic marijuana stores and their suppliers.
When it later revisited the idea, the commission faced intense pressure from advocates to use delivery as a means to offset the effective head start enjoyed by larger, better-funded operators, in accordance with the agency’s statutory mandate to create an equitable industry that includes veterans, farmers, and entrepreneurs from heavily policed communities.
Ultimately, commission officials voted to allow deliveries only by so-called “microbusinesses” — locally owned cannabis growing and processing companies such as Freshly Baked that are subject to state production caps — and, for the first three years, participants in its social equity and economic empowerment programs.
Those entrepreneurs can apply for either a “courier”-style license, bringing orders to customers from existing brick-and-mortar retail stores, or an “operator” delivery license, functioning more like retailers without storefronts that stock their own warehouse of inventory. The commission recently released applications for the “operator” license, which officials authorized over howls of protest from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
Smith and Roseman say the exclusivity policy is paying off, giving their 13-employee company breathing room from corporate competition and helping them attract interest from A-list investors and partners. Next up: new products and possible expansion into New York and Connecticut.
“We’re that real mom-and-pop business that people wanted to see succeed,” Roseman said.