Massachusetts Cannabis Consumers Get A Green Christmas, Even If It Snows

On Election Day, voters passed the ballot initiative overturning the prohibition of cannabis in Massachusetts. On December 15, possessing and consuming cannabis recreationally will officially become legal, making it a green Christmas in the Bay State, even if there's snow on the ground.  

However, people won't be able to buy cannabis products in stores for a while. Before Massachusetts can begin working out licenses for growers and distributors, they need to create the Cannabis Control Commission - the regulatory board that will draft the rules for the state's recreational marijuana industry.

"The Cannabis Control Commission will be appointed by March 1st [2017]," Jim Borghesani - Communications Director for the Massachusetts ballot initiative - told Civilized. "And then we'll immediately get to work on writing the regulations, and getting the licensing procedure in place and getting the application procedure in place. So we expect that retail sales won't begin until early 2018."

Before that process begins, they have to get over a few obstacles. The biggest hurdle is getting state and local governments on board with legalization after Governor Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other influencers campaigned against cannabis.

"We're hoping that Charlie Baker, and the other officials who opposed this, respect the will of the voters and don't put up any obstacles into the smooth implementation of this law," Borghesani said. "The voters have spoken. If the legislature or the governor want to weigh in on suggestions, then we would welcome their input."

They'll have a chance to get their say through public meetings on the issue, where the public will also get a chance to have their concerns on the issue heard when the state drafts regulations.

"We have set up a system of open hearings before the Cannabis Control Commission," said Borghesani. "That is the right and correct forum for anybody - a legislator, the governor, the attorney general - to go and say, 'This is what we think should be addressed in the regulations.' We welcome that. However, we would not welcome an early intrusion into the voters' will by legislators that seek to change this law before regulators even get a chance to write the regulations."

So far, we don't know what plans the opponents may have, but we do know that they haven't exactly been gracious losers.

"We never heard anything from the opposing forces," said Borghesani. "We still haven't received a call from anybody on the other side, which may not be unusual when it comes to ballot questions. When you have candidate campaigns, there is the tradition of making a concession, making a congratulatory call. The same tradition doesn't quite apply for ballot questions. But I have been involved in ballot campaigns in the past where the other side did call and say, 'Look, we gave it our best shot, but you guys won. Congratulations.' We have not received a call like that yet."

So the opposition's lack of courtesy doesn't necessarily mean they're going to oppose legalization moving forward.

Once those regulations are in place, licenses will be ready for retailers as well as cannabis social clubs, which is something that the current legal states don't have yet.

"We do allow for an onsite consumption facility, but that has to be approved by voters in [each town or city]," Borghesani said. "Those don't happen automatically. If you want to open a marijuana café, it has to be approved by the voters of the town. So we give local officials significant control over the marijuana industry in their communities."

That means once state regulators are finished doing their job, local governments will fine tune the law for their jurisdictions. 

On top of social use, Massachusetts will stand out from other states by allowing temporary permits for onsite consumption.

"We do give the Cannabis Control Commission the ability to grant special permits - you know, one-day licenses. And again that's really modelled on the alcohol laws and regulations in Massachusetts. You can get a temporary permit for alcohol distribution if you want to have a wedding or some other function in an area where alcohol sales wouldn't normally be allowed."

So once the industry gets up and running 2018, it will begin setting new trends for legal states.


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