After months of debate, the rules for Massachusetts’ recreational marijuana industry are largely set. With sales poised to begin in July, what can consumers expect? Here are quick answers to some frequently asked questions:
Sales to adults 21 and older should begin in July. You may have heard that they’ll start on July 1, but that’s not a certainty — it’s merely the earliest possible date for sales to begin, since the state Cannabis Control Commission begins accepting applications for marijuana business licenses on April 1 and then has 90 days to act on them.
Where will I be able to buy marijuana when sales begin?
Most likely, the only places that will have marijuana in stock in July will be some of the 22 currently operating medical dispensaries (along with any that open before July) that win a recreational license, too. But not all medical dispensaries want or will be able to get a recreational license.
It’s also possible some new retail pot shops will be able to open and buy inventory from the existing medical dispensaries, but only if there’s supply to spare.
Why so few?
Three main reasons:
1. It takes 4½ to 6 months to grow a marijuana plant, depending on the technique used. New operators can’t plant their clones or seeds until they get their licenses, meaning they’ll be ready closer to the end of 2018.
2. A bunch of medical dispensaries have promised their communities to remain medical-only, or are having trouble getting local permission to “convert” into hybrid medical-recreational shops. There’s an ongoing legal debate about how binding those promises are and how much control cities and towns have over the conversion process. Those questions may be resolved only with a lawsuit or a change in state law — and that will take some time.
3. A large number of municipalities have put in place bans and moratoriums on recreational businesses. Fewer possible locations means fewer operators.
So will there be lines out the door and supply shortages?
Maybe — it depends on how many stores actually open and how many consumers actually show up on the first day of sales.
Some existing medical dispensaries are ramping up production in anticipation of getting a recreational license. But they’re also required to set aside a chunk of their inventory for registered patients.
Can I just get a medical card? Where do I sign up?
Getting a medical card requires seeing a physician, getting a recommendation, and sending a photo and some paperwork to the state. Doctors can charge up to $200 for the initial appointment, while the state charges a $50 fee (waived for low-income residents). So it’s not instantaneous.
How expensive will marijuana be?
No one knows — it depends on the supply and the demand. Right now, an eighth of an ounce of cannabis flower goes for about $50 at a medical dispensary. It’s possible prices will spike this summer if demand is high; in other states, prices have come way down as the industry grows and competition increases.
Recreational marijuana will be subject to a total state tax of 17 percent. Municipalities may impose an additional local tax of 3 percent. Medical marijuana sales to registered patients are not taxed.
Can I get my marijuana delivered?
The Cannabis Control Commission has delayed the implementation of delivery licenses, likely until early next year. Medical dispensaries are allowed to deliver to medical patients, however, and several already offer this service.
But I see a lot of delivery services online.
There are certainly a lot of gray-market delivery providers on the Internet, many of which claim to be legal under the “caregiver” provision of the medical marijuana law. State regulators insist they’re not.
Other online delivery services offer lemonade and other products that come with a “free gift” of pot that just so happens to be worth the cost of the other item. State authorities have made it clear that such sham transactions are illegal, but they haven’t cracked down on them.
Can I get in trouble for buying marijuana from an unlicensed seller?
Under state law, selling marijuana without a license is against the law. Buying it is not. So the seller takes most of the risk. Federal law is another matter, but few experts believe individual consumers will be targeted for prosecution.
How much marijuana am I allowed to have?
State law says you can possess 1 ounce on your person in public; if you’re in a vehicle, your stash needs to be locked up out of sight. You can keep 10 ounces of cannabis at home.
How much marijuana can I grow at home?
You can grow up to six plants at home, or 12 if more than one adult lives there. You’re allowed to possess the amount harvested from those plants, even if it exceeds 10 ounces. You can gift your home-grown pot to friends, but you can’t sell it or barter it for other goods and services. Good news for would-be home-growers: The cannabis commission recently decided that retail pot shops can sell seeds and clones to consumers.
Where can I use marijuana?
It’s easier to say where you can’t use it: in public. Toke up on the sidewalk and you could get a $100 ticket. Also, you can’t use it while you’re driving.
I’m a renter and my lease doesn’t allow me to smoke inside. What am I supposed to do?
Like delivery, the Cannabis Control Commission has also postponed the licensure of so-called “social consumption” businesses that would allow patrons to use marijuana on site. In the meantime, there are always edibles. Otherwise, you may need to go to a friend’s house or other private property where you have permission to consume.
Why is this taking so long?
In December 2016, the Legislature delayed the start of recreational sales from January 2018 to July 2018. The Cannabis Control Commission has been working on regulations and setting up its enforcement operation since September 2017, when its five commissioners were appointed. To be fair, the commission hasn’t really been dragging its feet. Plenty of reasonable people disagree over the rules it has established, but the agency has been hitting all its deadlines. If there are supply shortages and only a limited number of retailers open in July, it will have more to do with the market factors and local control issues.
What about the federal situation?
The federal government categorizes marijuana as the most dangerous type of drug there is, alongside heroin. But for the moment, despite a change in policy by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that gives regional US prosecutors more discretion to bring marijuana cases, a full-blown crackdown by federal agents on state-legal cannabis businesses and consumers seems unlikely.
Why? For one thing, federal prosecutors have limited resources. US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, despite issuing some tough-sounding statements in the wake of the Sessions announcement, has said he wants his modest staff to focus on deadly drugs such as opioids.
Also, the move by Sessions is said to have blindsided his own prosecutors, some of whom suggested publicly that they will continue to follow the Obama-era hands-off approach. Meanwhile, Sessions has feuded publicly in recent weeks with his boss, President Trump, leaving it unclear whether he would really have the backing of the executive branch in launching a crackdown.
Another thing to consider is public opinion, which has turned decisively in favor of legalization. Even Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who supported the unsuccessful anti-legalization campaign in 2016, has praised the medical benefits of cannabis and said the feds should let his state implement the will of voters who approved a commercial marijuana industry. Lelling, an appointed official, may have felt compelled to say publicly that he can’t unilaterally repeal prohibition and rule out prosecuting state-legal marijuana operators, but he must know that actually doing so would invite a strong backlash from voters and politicians of all stripes.