The application process for priority certification of legal marijuana businesses began Monday, according to the Cannabis Control Commission, yet another stride toward the commercial sale of recreational marijuana, which is expected to begin July 1.
Eligible parties include those who manage medical marijuana dispensaries and want to develop into commercial sales, as well as cultivation and product manufacturers, said Jay Youmans, a policy advisor at Smith, Costello and Crawford, a Massachusetts-based law firm that deals with marijuana policy.
More than 130 businesses match the existing operator definition, with many more seeking to establish themselves, Youmans said. While commercial sales are slated to begin July 1, he said he expects the industry to take several years before it truly flourishes.
In order for people to feel more at ease about this industry, Youmans said, stakeholders need to educate public officials about what will happen so that there is more transparency.
“Until then, we’re going to see a lot of zoning, siting and other municipal tools used to control this and … that’s going to result in a slow rollout that is probably more slower than a lot of folks who voted for this imagined,” he said.
Morgan Fox, the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, wrote in an email that selling marijuana commercially will be a step in the right direction.
“This is good for a variety of reasons, including tax revenue, job creation, quality control and moving marijuana sales out of the criminal market,” Fox wrote.
Once Massachusetts accepts applications from various marijuana business, they will grade those applications and award licenses immediately, Fox wrote. Those who are awarded licenses will likely be forced to begin growing immediately to have their products ready for sale by July, he wrote.
In 2015, more than one million Massachusetts residents aged 18 or older self-attested to consuming illegal marijuana products — commodities that were not taxed or regulated, Youmans said.
Because marijuana is already deep-rooted in the state, Youmans said commercial sales would lead to safer and more regulated transactions.
“I encourage municipalities not to start from a place of fear but to start from a place of realization that this is already in their communities and they have an opportunity to regulate in a really sensible and proactive way,” Youmans said. “Hopefully the industry will be responsible and see that opportunity and work with municipalities to craft these solutions.”
Kamani Jefferson, the president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said that allowing residents to shift from illegally obtaining marijuana to buying it at a store will offer a sense of protection and security.
“As a consumer who’s been consuming in the illicit market in Massachusetts and other places, it would just be convenient to not have to go other routes in the illicit market to consume,” Jefferson said. “The way of doing it in the limelight would just bring a lot of benefits.”
Jefferson said getting to the July 1 deadline will require those educated in cannabis policy to instruct residents and lawmakers about usage and implementation.
“[This industry] is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we definitely need all hands on deck and all parties involved to show that we can be responsible consumers and educated about what we’re doing and educating people who are interested or not interested,” he said, “so at least they’re getting the facts of what this plant can do.”
June 1 is the first day the CCC can issue a license to a business for commercial marijuana operation.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted a portion of an interview with Jay Youmans and incorrectly stated his title. An updated version reflects this correction.