A look back at the predictions we made for marijuana in 2018 — and how far off we were
So how’d I do? Well, after scrolling down through tens of thousands of e-mails and finding that old newsletter, I have a verdict: Freakin’ terrible, man. I mean really just godawful.
Let’s survey the damage:
Prediction #1: Recreational sales will start on schedule in early July. . . .
Verdict: Lol. November is in July, right? A+, Dan.
Prediction #2: . . . But pot could be in short supply.
Verdict: Somewhat true. The five recreational shops open for business in Massachusetts haven’t completely run out of inventory, but I was correct to predict that there would be “limits on how much you can buy, and possibly long lines.” A month after opening, New England Treatment Access in Northampton still has lines around the block, and is only allowing customers to buy an eighth-ounce of marijuana flower at a time. A spokesman said Friday that the shop is having trouble quickly restocking certain items, thanks to backups at the state’s two licensed testing labs and the laborious process of registering plants and products in the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system.
Prediction #3: Prices will fall (but when?).
Verdict: Wrong, for now. Too few shops have opened and the licensed industry overall remains too immature and small for meaningful price competition to occur. It’s still $50-an-eighth out there.
Prediction #4: Mixed-use licenses will be a hit.
Verdict: Dead wrong again. (Is this what it’s like being a Browns fan?) Under heavy political pressure from Governor Charlie Baker and other skeptics, the Cannabis Control Commission in February ended up spiking these licenses, which would have allowed businesses such as movie theaters and yoga studios to offer pot on the side. (At the same time, however, the commission agreed that when and if it authorized the licenses, they would go exclusively to smaller, locally owned firms and participants in the commission’s equity program.)
Another issue I didn’t anticipate: Secretary of State Bill Galvin claimed that because of a flaw in state law, cities and towns cannot hold the local referendums required to “opt in” to hosting pot cafes and other social consumption businesses. More generally, I overestimated the readiness of the public to have marijuana so intimately integrated into their daily lives and the mainstream economy.
Prediction #5: Ancillary companies will thrive.
Verdict: Somewhat true. The touch-the-plant industry is just getting started on the recreational side, limiting the economic spillover for service providers that want licensees as clients. But a small army of lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants is crisscrossing Massachusetts as we speak, helping hundreds of marijuana license applicants to find properties and win local permits. Contractors are also hard at work building and expanding cultivation facilities as producers ramp up.
Prediction #6: Municipalities will slowly ease restrictions.
Verdict: Somewhat true. A large number of local moratoriums on licensed marijuana companies are due to expire on Jan. 1, and many more cities and towns have implemented zoning for such operations than at this time last year. Still, a significant number of municipal bans remain in effect, and other communities have extremely restrictive zoning schemes that sequester pot operators in remote corners of town.
One thing I failed to anticipate is the extent to which municipal restrictions and financial demands by local officials are holding back the state’s efforts at building an equitable industry, one that includes businesses owned by members of disenfranchised communities and people harmed by the war on drugs. Many such applicants appear to be falling out of the pipeline at the local level, discouraged by demanding municipal application processes, the dearth of available properties in communities with restrictive zoning, negotiations over host community agreements, better-connected competitors, and so on. Only one large municipality, Somerville, has implemented an equity-focused approval process, though Boston may soon follow its lead.
Prediction #7: Someone will try to sell the state a pot breathalyzer.
Verdict: Not really. (Although, people certainly tried to pitch me on various impairment-detection technologies.)
Earlier this year, the State Police tested a saliva-swab system that would be used in conjunction with observations made by an officer trained as a “Drug Recognition Expert” to prosecute suspected stoned drivers. But the state didn’t contract with a private company to buy boxes of pot-detecting gadgets. Instead, an official drugged-driving commission recommended automatically suspending the licenses of drivers who refuse to take a blood test, saliva swab, or 12-step police evaluation that includes a urine test. (The state already suspends the licenses of drivers who refuse alcohol breathalyzers.)
Prediction #8: There will be debate among activists over a crackdown on the illicit market.
Verdict: Not yet — again, likely because the industry is so immature. I do expect this issue to crop up in 2019 as licensed operators lift their heads from the grinding process of opening and realize they’re being undercut left and right by unlicensed delivery services.
Originally, I had anticipated that this would lead to a lot of soul-searching by advocates, who two years ago pitched legalization as a way to destroy the illicit market and would now have to decide whether they actually supported putting illicit sellers in jail. I no longer believe this, for a simple reason: So far, not a single certified minority-owned business nor a single economic empowerment applicant has won a license from the Cannabis Control Commission, thanks to the lack of institutional lending, the law’s laundry list of regulations, and the onerous local process, among other reasons. Therefore, it would be hard for anyone to say with a straight face that illicit operators have a realistic, affordable pathway to entering the licit market. In those circumstances, activists wouldn’t hesitate to decry efforts by the established industry to pressure police into cracking down on the unregulated market. There’s also the possibility that such a crackdown could prove unpopular with those who believe police resources are better spent chasing dealers of more dangerous substances.