As Brookline pot retailer opens, others look for lessons
All eyes are on Brookline.
As New England Treatment Access starts recreational marijuana sales on Saturday, its opening marks a new era in Greater Boston: a time in which marijuana is not only legal, but accessible to Bostonians who rely on public transportation.
Meanwhile, business owners and local leaders in neighboring cities and towns — including Boston — are watching the transformation, hoping to learn what goes right, what goes wrong, and how quickly they could launch the same industry in their municipality.
The process required by the state Cannabis Control Commission to open a recreational marijuana facility can be lengthy for some and shorter for others, making it challenging to determine exactly when the next Greater Boston store will open. And while the state has clearly and publicly laid out the steps in the process, officials have been reluctant to nail down a timeline for prospective storefront owners.
“It’s so messy, and it’s so murky,” said Jacinth Cooke, the director of operations for Alchemy League, which has submitted an application to open a recreational marijuana shop in Boston. Cooke’s wife, Leah Daniels, is the company’s owner.
Alchemy League is one of three companies in Boston that had submitted their applications to the Cannabis Control Commission as of March 7, when the commission released its latest data on recreational marijuana facility applicants.
Seven others in Greater Boston — four in Brookline (including NETA), two in Chelsea, and one in Newton — have done the same, and some have moved further ahead in the licensing process.
But the application is just the first big step in a lengthy process that can take three months or more.
The state process has four key elements:
1. Submitting an application, which has its own required set of four packets;
2. Receiving a provisional license;
3. Receiving a final license;
4. Receiving a “commence operations” notice, which allows the store to open after three calendar days.
Aside from NETA, two other Greater Boston stores have received some form of licensing: Sanctuary Medicinals LLC in Brookline and Garden Remedies Inc. in Newton. Both stores have provisional licenses, which is step two in the four-step process.
No Greater Boston store, NETA excluded, has a final license — the next to last step before they could open the doors and start selling recreational pot.
The time spent in the initial “submitted application” phase of the process, where all Boston applicants currently sit, is up in the air. Submitted means just that: It doesn’t mean it’s complete or that it’s been vetted.
Once the application is confirmed to be complete and accurate, the company is required to have a background check, and have its host city or town confirm to the state that it meets the bylaws or ordinances. Then, the commission has 90 days to accept or deny the completed application.
Although a company notifies the commission when it submits an application, “the time it takes to complete that process depends on the initial completeness of the applicant’s submitted packets,” according to a commission spokesperson. So an applicant could easily sit in the “submitted application” phase of the process for well over 90 days.
Once an applicant has completed all these steps, the commission can vote to grant it a provisional license. It then has a variety of other state requirements to meet before the commission can vote to grant it a final license.
Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, said he’s been in communication with various city and town leaders to assist them through the process, but he’s wary of forcing them into any “one-size-fits-all” solution for moving through the steps.
“It is not our job to tell them what to do,” Hoffman told the Globe editorial board on Thursday. “It is our job to answer their questions and to make sure they have whatever help they can get from us . . . but I don’t tell them what to do.”
So far, 14 stores across Massachusetts have received “commence operations” notices from the state. A Globe review of those stores found companies have spent an average of about 15 weeks with a provisional license and nearly five weeks with a final license, before receiving their “commence operations” notice.
But the numbers vary widely at each store and location. Of the 14 stores, NETA’s Brookline store spent the longest period of time with a provisional license — about 32 weeks — but spent the shortest period of time with a final license, receiving a “commence operations” notice after just nine days.
Amanda Rositano, NETA’s director of operational compliance, said each store’s unique timeline for moving through the process will largely be affected by local municipality requirements.
Unlike Northampton, where NETA’s store was one of the first two to open on the East Coast in November, Brookline established its own local licensing process, which required additional meetings and hearings.
“We needed to work with almost every single town department, share our plans, take their suggestions,” Rositano said.
In Brookline, she added, they also were expected to submit a traffic plan with the police. Though they worked closely with police in Northampton, that specific requirement wasn’t there.
“For what it’s worth, we were totally in support of that process, and we’re happy to collaborate with the town in the process,” Rositano said, adding that “there were just more steps in the local process and more meetings along the way.”
Even before the different licensing timelines come into play, though, Cooke, from Alchemy League, said the application phase of the process can be the hardest to project. It simply depends on the company’s readiness.
While some prospective stores — like Core Empowerment in Jamaica Plain, whose co-owner told the Globe the company submitted an application to the commission on Thursday — have had a location secured for awhile, others in the application phase may still be solidifying a location.
Alchemy League, for example, submitted an application with a proposed location for its store that has since fallen through. The company plans to stay in that “submitted application” phase indefinitely as the owner searches for a new location.
“We spent seven months on that one location thinking we were good,” but, Cooke said, “We’ll continue to look.”