Here's why Massachusetts retail marijuana shops may not open July 1 as planned

With two and a half weeks to go before legal marijuana shops were expected to open in Massachusetts, the Cannabis Control Commission has not granted a single license.

“We’re going to get it right,” Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman said Thursday. “If that means we have few or no stores on July 1 and it takes a few more weeks, I hope and expect that everyone in the state believes it’s the right thing to do. We believe it’s the right thing to do.”

The commission opened the licensing application process for marijuana businesses on May 1 and June 1, depending on the type of business. State law gave the commission authority to begin issuing licenses June 1.

But the commission is still reviewing the applications. 

Hoffman said the commission is “working as hard as we can,” and he expects licenses will be granted “shortly.”

He said the holdup is because the commission is waiting for background checks to be completed and for municipalities to confirm their support for applicants. 

As of Wednesday, 53 applicants from 28 companies or individuals had submitted the entire application to open a marijuana business.

The applicants include 18 marijuana cultivators, 17 retailers and 12 product manufacturers, plus a handful of transportation, research and microbusiness applicants.

Hoffman has said in the past that he believes the Massachusetts marijuana industry will be “sparse” come July. 

When can you legally buy marijuana in Massachusetts? Here’s the timeline

Industry experts have said it will take time for the industry to ramp up, since cultivators need time to grow enough marijuana to meet the demand.

Hoffman noted that having retail stores open July 1 has always been a goal, not a legislative mandate.

He said other states that rushed to meet an “arbitrary deadline” ended up with no inventory, no licenses in place, no background checks or no online inventory being done. “We are not going to do that,” Hoffman said.

Based on the license applications submitted so far, Worcester County is emerging as a center for marijuana businesses. Of the 53 complete applications, 16 came from Worcester. No other county has more than five applicants so far.

In Western Massachusetts, there were five applicants from Franklin County, three from Hampden County, and two each from Berkshire and Hampshire counties. The statistics do not break down the type of business geographically, so it is not clear how many of those are, for example, retail stores or growers.

The majority of the applications – 36 – are from registered medical marijuana dispensaries that were approved for priority review to open a recreational business.

Those applicants have a leg up because they have had more time to build their businesses and go through the approvals process for their medical dispensaries.

The number of applicants is likely to grow significantly as times goes on.

Currently, there are 1,145 applications that have been started in the online licensing system, according to Cannabis Control Commission executive director Shawn Collins.

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