Legislative Update

Massachusetts’ medical cannabis program, regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission under the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, was established by Chapter 369 of the Acts of 2012, "An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana,'' following the passage of Ballot Question 3 in the 2012 general election. As of October 2018, Massachusetts has over 60,000 registered patients in the Medical Use of Marijuana Program, with 40 Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) approved to sell and another five with Final Certificates but not yet approved to sell.

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters passed Question 4, officially legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals 21 years of age or older. In 2017, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to delay implementation of the adult-use program by six months. Legislators then began working on changes to the initiative, and finally Governor Charlie Baker signed a regulatory bill in July 2017 creating a surge of entrepreneurs interested in opening Massachusetts recreational dispensaries. The state's recreational use market went into effect July 1, 2018. Regulations governing the Adult-Use of Marijuana (935 CMR 500) can be found here.

  • 2012 – Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana for patients suffering from serious health issues.
  • 2016 – Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated marijuana market similar to alcohol. The initiative took effect on December 15th, eliminating penalties for limited possession and cultivation for adults’ use.

The Massachusetts medical marijuana laws that originally created the program, currently administered by the Department of Public Health, is scheduled to be transferred to the Cannabis Control Commission on or before December 31, 2018.

About Massachusetts’ Adult-Use Program

After passing the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative in 2012, Massachusetts voters passed a ballot initiative in 2016 making adult-use marijuana legal for those 21 and older. The legislation was part of the national third wave of states to legalize adult-use along with California, Nevada, and Maine. Retail sales have a 10.75% excise tax on the marijuana, on top of the general 6.25% state sales tax, and up to a 3% local option tax, for a total of 17%-20% tax. However, sales of medical marijuana are exempt from the excise tax.

In accordance with the new Massachusetts marijuana growing laws, the first adult-use Massachusetts cultivation license was granted on June 21, 2018, and as of October 2018, the Commission issued final licenses to operators in Boston hoping within weeks to open the first commercial Massachusetts dispensary. Here is a recap of key dates and events in legalized adult-use marijuana in the State of Massachusetts:

  • July 25, 2016 — Question 4 passed with 53.7% of Colorado voters legalizing recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.
  • January 1, 2018 — Adult-use marijuana is official legal to consume.
  • June 21, 2018 — The first adult-use cultivation license was granted.
  • October 2018 — The Commission issued final licenses to operators in Boston hoping within weeks to open the first commercial dispensaries in Massachusetts.

About Massachusetts’ Medical Marijuana Program

On November 6, 2012, 63% of Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, making the state the 18th to enact a compassionate medical marijuana program. The law took effect on January 1, 2013, eliminating criminal and civil penalties for the possession and use of up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for patients carrying a state-issued registration card. Qualifying conditions in Massachusetts include cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.

Massachusetts allows both registered patients and caregivers to cultivate up to a 60-day supply of medical marijuana if requiring them to purchase it from a dispensary would result in "hardship." Hardship refers to limited access to a dispensary by documented financial hardship, a physical inability to access transportation, or the lack of medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts within a reasonable distance from the patients' homes. As of 2013, patients can also get a written recommendation from their physicians to cultivate marijuana, essentially a form of cultivation registration in Massachusetts. Here is a recap of key dates and events in legalized medical marijuana in the State of Massachusetts:

  • November 6, 2012 — Massachusetts becomes the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana when 63% of voters approve Question 3.
  • January 1, 2013 — Medical marijuana is officially legal to consume for qualifying patients.
  • May 1, 2013 — Deadline for Massachusetts Department of Health to set regulations in addition to Question 3. Medical marijuana dispensaries were not able to open until the regulations were set.
  • June 2015 — The first licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts opened in Salem.

License Types Available in Massachusetts

Marijuana Cultivators

A Marijuana Cultivator may cultivate, process, and package marijuana, to transfer and deliver marijuana products to marijuana establishments, but not to consumers. Cultivators may select what tier they will be in, which will affect their application and licensing fees. Cultivator licenses are separated in 11 tiers ranging from those under 5,000 square feet to those up to 100,000 square feet.

Steps to Obtaining a License in Massachusetts

All applications will be available for completion online through the Commission’s licensing portal. The Commission has intentionally broken up the application into three sections, or “packets.” The packets may be completed on a rolling basis. As such, applicants have the opportunity to open an application and save it so that they may work on the application over a period of time. Before the Commission will consider applications including a Massachusetts medical license application or a recreational cultivation license application, all three packets must be determined to be complete by the Commission. The applicant will be notified by the Commission when each packet is determined to be complete. Applicants should be prepared to complete an open Massachusetts marijuana license application within one year of starting the application.

The Commission has established a compliance-based licensing process with no limit on the total number of licenses for Marijuana Establishments that the Commission may issue. As such, applicants for licensure are not competing against each other to obtain a license. Rather, each applicant is required to submit the same information, and each application will be evaluated on whether the information complies with the requirements set forth in the Commission’s regulations, 935 CMR 500.000. Each of the three packets that make up the Marijuana Establishment license application require different pieces of information that are intended to provide the Commission with relevant facts about the applicant(s) and the Marijuana Establishment the applicant(s) plan to operate. The Commission’s regulations seek to capture business information that has likely been part of an applicants’ thought process as they’ve considered operating a business.

Before the Commission will consider whether to grant or deny a license, all three packets must be determined to be complete by the Commission. The individual listed as the contact person for the applicant will receive an email from a representative of the Commission when each packet is determined to be complete, and again when the full application is determined to be complete and time-stamped by the Commission.

A Marijuana Establishment is required to comply with the laws of the local municipality in which the applicant wishes to locate. The municipality will be asked to respond to the Commission, within 60 days, whether the proposed Marijuana Establishment is in compliance with local bylaws and ordinances, including but not limited to zoning bylaws.

The Commission has 90 days from the date it determines that the application is complete in which to either grant a provisional license or deny a license based upon the application submitted by the applicant. The municipal response occurs within this 90-day period. Denials of licensure will state the reason for the denial. Provisional licenses will include conditions that the applicant must satisfy to receive a final license. One condition that any applicant receiving a provisional license should be prepared for is an architectural plan review followed by a scheduled physical inspection of the premises on which the Marijuana Establishment will be located by the licensing and inspectional staff of the Commission.

Packet 1, Application of Intent: The Application of Intent packet is intended to provide the Commission with information about the Marijuana Establishment, including business information and ownership structure, how the business is organized, funding and financing information, the location of the business, a Plan for Areas of Disproportionate Impact, and other important business-related information depending on license type.

Packet 2, Background Check: The Commission is required to make a determination of suitability for licensure for each applicant. As part of the suitability determination, the Commission will perform a review, for each individual listed on the application, of the individual’s background. Background checks will include, but not be limited to, a review of Massachusetts’ and national criminal database records; Massachusetts’ and national civil database records, including professional and occupational records; involvement in other marijuana-related businesses; and actions taken against any license or registration. Applicants are not required to provide information about any conviction that has been sealed or expunged by court order. Individuals listed on the application for licensure are required to provide a notarized Massachusetts CORI Acknowledgment Form as well as authorization to obtain a full set of fingerprints. Individuals listed on the application will be notified of the process for providing a full set of fingerprints after the completed form is received. In addition, each individual listed on the application must tell the Commission about the individual’s involvement, and the involvement of an entity owned or controlled in whole or in part by the individual, in criminal or civil actions

Packet 3, Management and Operations Profile: The Management and Operations Profile packet is intended to provide the Commission with a snapshot of the applicants’ approach to operating the Marijuana Establishment. The information required as part of this packet is an indicator that the applicant understands the legal requirements, including the Commission’s regulations, and is able to operate in a lawful manner.

Governing Agencies

Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission’s mission is to safely, equitably and effectively implement and administer the Massachusetts marijuana laws enabling access to medical and adult use marijuana in the Commonwealth.

The Commission fosters the creation of a safely regulated industry that will create entrepreneurial and employment opportunities and incremental tax revenues in and to communities across the state and which will be a best practice model for other states. The industry will be characterized by participation by small and larger participants and with full and robust participation by minorities, women and veterans. The Commission is also tasked with the development of policies and procedures to encourage and enable full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and positively impact those communities.