First, there were marijuana stores. Next up in the state’s burgeoning recreational market? Weed on wheels.
Legal marijuana deliveries are set to begin next year in Massachusetts, after the Cannabis Control Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday to grant final approval to a tightly regulated system of store-to-door pot commerce that initially gives priority to smaller, local businesses.
Commissioner Jen Flanagan cast the lone “nay,” citing public health and safety concerns.
While it will be months before vans carrying pre-packaged recreational marijuana orders hit the streets, the delivery scheme is likely to significantly expand consumer access to cannabis amid the slow rollout of retail pot shops.
Proponents say regulated marijuana delivery also should improve public safety by offering an officially sanctioned alternative to the many unlicensed delivery services that operate openly.
“We, through this license, have an opportunity to rein in this illicit market,” Commissioner Britte McBride, who led drafting of the delivery rules, said at a recent meeting of the agency. “That is, more than anything, the most compelling reason for my support of this license and its inception.”
For two years, the agency will award delivery permits only to participants in its social equity and economic empowerment programs — meant to benefit those affected by the war on drugs — and so-called microbusinesses, small-scale growers and manufacturers owned by Massachusetts residents.
Officials reasoned that delivery outfits should be much cheaper to start up than a retail shop, and that giving exclusivity to disenfranchised groups should steer investment dollars their way.
“I’m proud of implementing the will of the voters, who were clear that they wanted to see an industry that’s fair, that’s equitable, that has room for small business, and isn’t going to be dominated by big conglomerates,” Commissioner Shaleen Title said Tuesday. “We made a lot of progress toward that today.”
During the two-year period, retail marijuana shops could not make deliveries themselves and would have to contract with an independent delivery service. And other than microbusinesses, which grow and process their own marijuana but do not operate storefronts, delivery services must be independent firms that obtain products from retail shops as they are ordered by consumers — they cannot order an inventory of products in bulk from manufacturers and resell them over time.
Delivery services will be subject to significant restrictions, many of which are designed to assuage the concerns of law enforcement officials and the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, who forcefully opposed an initial delivery proposal by the commission last year.
“What we’re trying to do is find the right balance between responding to the will of the voters [who] legalized adult use [of marijuana] and the safety concerns,” commission chairman Steve Hoffman told reporters.
Deliveries will not be allowed in cities and towns where marijuana retail shops are banned, unless officials in those communities vote to “opt in.” Customers in hotels, dorms, or federally subsidized housing are also out of luck. Additionally, consumers will have to visit a store (or perhaps video conference with an employee at one) to verify that they’re 21 or older before they’re eligible to place orders.
Operators, meanwhile, will be required to follow intensive security requirements: Vehicles would have to be staffed by two workers and equipped with a GPS tracker, plus permanently installed lockboxes for cash and cannabis, and could not carry more than $10,000 worth of marijuana products at a time.
Most controversially, delivery workers must film every customer transaction with a police-style body camera, a measure meant to prevent robberies. But after an outpouring of privacy concerns, the commission revised its regulations to require that businesses retain the footage only for 30 days instead of 90, and to say that police may access body camera data only if they first obtain a search warrant or court order.
“No one will be able to go in and fish through that footage, and consumers should know that,” said Title, the only commission member to oppose the camera requirement.
Officials, including Baker, agreed that a change in federal law allowing marijuana firms to more easily access banking services and accept debit and credit cards would be the biggest boost to safety, taking tempting cash out of the system. The US House is expected to vote Wednesday on such a bill.
“I am very hopeful that the federal government will approve banking for this industry,” Hoffman said. “It will make it dramatically safer for all of us.”