By Jordan Graham and Meghan Ottolini Boston Herald
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Despite the ballot initiative that passed, recreational pot shops in MA are slow to open. More than 160 cities and towns across the state have instituted moratoriums on pot businesses, meaning those residents won't be able to buy recreational weed in much of the Commonwealth until 2019.
The Cannabis Control Commission's deliberate roll-out of recreational pot licenses will miss a widely held expectation that pot shops would be open today, but that hasn't stopped budding entrepreneurs looking to add rec use marijuana to their existing medical businesses.
"As soon as the ballot initiative passed, we started to draw up plans on how to expand," said Norton Arbelaez, director of medical marijuana empire NETA.
NETA currently has dispensaries in Brookline and Northampton, and has nearly doubled production ahead of acquiring recreational licenses.
With an estimated 20,000 plants growing in its Franklin warehouse, NETA is now one of the largest pot cultivators in the entire country. The company has upped its staff to nearly 400 employees and plans to open a third retail location, in Franklin.
Arbelaez said NETA anticipated a delayed start to the recreational market, and operated strategically in its expansion.
Still, that expansion is coming slower than many have hoped. More than 160 cities and towns across the state have instituted moratoriums on pot businesses, meaning those residents won't be able to buy recreational weed in much of the commonwealth until 2019.
More than 70 municipalities have outright bans on recreational pot businesses.
"Is it frustrating? Yeah. I'd love to be open 7/1, I'd love to add jobs and be a part of this historic industry," said Keith Cooper, chief executive of Revolutionary Clinics, which hopes to open retail shops in Somerville and Cambridge. "We've already been investing in this business for months now, we decided to quadruple our growth space in Fitchburg, we're spending a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of money in expanding our facilities out there." Many of the cities and towns that have banned or delayed pot shops say they are concerned about public health impacts.
"We're careful about substances, and the potential for substance abuse among our children," said Westwood Town Administrator Mike Jaillet. He said town representatives never discussed the revenue pot shops might bring.
"Revenue, from that sort of business, it clearly is not even close to being an important factor when you compare the revenue to the potential risks involved. Not even on the same page."
In preparation for the launch of recreational use marijuana, Newton-based Garden Remedies has undertaken two major expansions at its Fitchburg cultivation facility. CEO Dr. Karen Munkacy said her concern is that critically ill patients, like those undergoing aggressive chemotherapy, won't be able to find any marijuana once the recreational market takes off.
"We're actually stockpiling our medication, because we do think there will be a significant adult use demand," Munkacy said. "There are a lot of people who are still buying this on the black market."
Steve Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, said he understands the frustration over the lack of pot shops nearly two years after Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana, but said he is focused on helping to create a stable, healthy industry.
"I do care about people's expectations, and we're trying hard to meet those expectations, but we're going to do it right," Hoffman said. "I really care about what this industry looks like as a mature and stable industry, that's what we're really focused on. It's just going to take a while to get there."
Attorney General Maura Healey, who opposed the 2016 ballot question that legalized adult use of recreational marijuana, extended the time that cities and towns can prohibit retail marijuana operations without approval from voters through from Dec. 31 to June 2019.
Tomorrow, the commission will vote to approve a recreational dispensary in Leicester, which would become the first retail license.
The commission has already granted a cultivation license to Sira Naturals, which already has medical dispensaries in Somerville and Cambridge.