Massachusetts cannabis regulators are considering a plan to permit home delivery of marijuana across the state — but only by small, locally-owned companies.
At the Thursday meeting of the Cannabis Control Commission, commissioner Britte McBride proposed allowing so-called “microbusinesses” — firms owned by Massachusetts residents that grow and process limited quantities of marijuana — to deliver marijuana and marijuana-infused products to consumers’ homes.
McBride argued that favoring smaller operators would bolster the commission’s efforts to include marginalized people in the marijuana industry, especially those from communities that were disproportionately targeted for arrests amid the so-called “War on Drugs.”
And, McBride said, keeping existing medical dispensaries and other large pot firms out of the delivery game would allow the state to more tightly control initial delivery operators and fix any problems before expanding the program.
“This would provide for a limited phase-in of delivery operations,” McBride said at the meeting. “It would enable us to implement and enforce regulations in a way that we could figure out what is scalable and what works.”
McBride acknowledged concerns by law enforcement officials and elected leaders such as Governor Charlie Baker over diversion of products to the illicit market and deliveries to underage people.
But she noted that numerous illicit and gray-market delivery services are already operating openly, without oversight, and expressed confidence the commission could draft rules protecting public safety — while giving local entrepreneurs a chance to break into the marijuana business without having to raise the millions of dollars required to build a large cultivation facility or lease retail space in a prime location.
The plan, McBride said, “focuses the development of a regulated delivery system by coupling the regulated system with. . . a license type that is intentionally designed to be a lower barrier to entry.”
“I think it aligns nicely with our social equity goals,” she added.
The commission has not formally approved McBride’s plan. Next, the agency’s staff will work with two of the commissioners to draft potential delivery regulations and suggest a plan for implementing them.
Commission chairman Steve Hoffman and Commissioner Shaleen Title said they tentatively supported McBride’s plan, with Title saying it was a critical “last chance” for the agency to create an affordable, accessible license type.
Commissioners Kay Doyle and Jen Flanagan expressed reservations about delivery, with Doyle saying she was worried about how drivers would spot fake IDs and Flanagan fretting that deliveries to college towns and apartments could lead to pot getting in the hands of students under 21.
California, Nevada, and Oregon permit home marijuana delivery, and Washington, D.C., hosts a thriving network of gray market delivery services. Massachusetts allows medical dispensaries to deliver cannabis products to registered patients, but doesn’t allow deliveries of recreational pot. The state has also approved home delivery of alcohol, including even in so-called “dry” communities that have banned brick-and-mortar alcohol retailers.
At least one town, Billerica, has passed a bylaw banning marijuana deliveries within its borders. The measure has not been approved by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, which routinely reviews local rules to ensure they comply with state law.
Marijuana industry leaders insisted Billerica’s measure is illegal, saying it flies in the face of a provision in state marijuana law that prohibits municipalities from making the “transportation” of cannabis products “unreasonably impracticable.”
“I don’t think they have the right,” said David O’Brien, the executive director of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, or MassCBA. “Letting individual municipalities take steps like Billerica did sets a dangerous precedent. There needs to be greater clarification coming from the state.”
Billerica Town Manager John Curran did not respond to a request for comment.
Hoffman said the law is ambiguous, but added he was “hopeful that we’re going to let this happen across the state.”
Also on Thursday, the commission issued final licenses to two marijuana testing laboratories. It was a key step in the slow-moving rollout of the state’s commercial pot market, since marijuana retailers under the law cannot sell untested products.
The licenses went to CDX Analytics in Salem and MCR Labs in Framingham, companies that test marijuana and marijuana-infused products for purity and potency before they’re sold in medical dispensaries and, soon, recreational cannabis shops.
However, the day when consumers older than 21 will be allowed to line up and buy marijuana at a legal, state-regulated store is still likely weeks away.
The commission has not conducted final inspections of the two labs or the handful of other marijuana producers, processors, and retailers that have already won final licenses.
Hoffman said the agency was “getting very close” to green-lighting marijuana sales but declined to give a firm date.
Hoffman added that the commission is considering allowing the sale of products that have already been tested under the medical marijuana system without requiring them to be re-tested. That could speed up the process of opening stores.
“As long as we know that what is being sold has been tested and is safe, we’ll let it happen,” Hoffman said after Thursday’s meeting.