As Massachusetts begins its third year of legal adult-use marijuana sales and after more than one billion dollars in gross sales revenue, the commonwealth has proved it can efficiently regulate a safe and effective cannabis industry. However, the Cannabis Control Commission’s efforts remain ongoing, and the work ahead must be marked by deep collaboration between state and local government, industry, academia, and other key stakeholders to achieve a truly equitable industry that preserves and promotes public health and safety.
This past spring, the commission began a robust and transparent regulatory review process that solicited feedback from all corners of the commonwealth. The comments were at times contentious with strong opinions on all sides; however, it was our job to strike the right balance and establish the best path forward for Massachusetts. The rule-making process concludes this month when the secretary of the commonwealth promulgates our comprehensive regulations that further access for patients and caregivers; create a new research license to promote the study of cannabis, institute public health safeguards in the wake of the national vape health crisis, and strengthen our equity efforts with the new Delivery Operator license type and an expanded exclusivity period.
On reflection, the delivery license stood out as a central discussion point during this regulatory round due to its potential to meet so many of our priorities around equity, consumer access, incremental tax revenue, and combating the illicit market.
I appreciate that some city and town officials are excited about the opportunity to issue Host Community Agreements (HCA) to equity applicants and establish new revenue streams through delivery, while others are still assessing the impact to their established zoning and bylaws.
As the marijuana delivery operator license type joins the ranks of the delivery courier, retail, cultivation, and other standard license types, it is critical to ensure that all municipalities are clear on the operational requirements these businesses will face.
Since first offering the delivery-only license in 2019, the commission has made no change to its’ commitment to upholding local authority so municipalities can structure cannabis licensing in the way that best serves their community. I believe delivery will expand local revenue opportunities to many cities and towns. The commission will pre-certify delivery license applicants as an important first step; offering assurance to municipalities that those businesses have been vetted and found suitable for licensure. All marijuana couriers and marijuana delivery operators will then be required to obtain an HCA before licensure from the commission.
Contrary to some reports, no consumer deliveries will be allowed in cities and towns which have prohibited all marijuana retail businesses. Additionally, municipalities that have banned marijuana establishments from locating within its’ borders but wish to allow its residents to receive deliveries may opt-in through a process the commission will determine.
The commission has also remained thoughtful in finding the balance between effective operations and the prevention of market domination. For example, licensed delivery businesses will not be capped by the number of vehicles or warehouse square footage they may control, while operational and license limits will tamp down one company’s ability to garner an undue market share. In addition, deliveries may only be made when a specific, individual order has been placed to prevent entities from creating mobile warehouses or roving retail establishments.
Additionally, I’ve heard from several residents who are concerned about the safety of delivery operations. I hope they are assured that the same stringent security and anti-diversion regulations that have made Massachusetts’ marijuana establishments safe and secure will be required for delivery licensees as well.
Drivers will always be paired with a second registered agent, monitored by GPS tracking, and are required to wear personal body cameras to ward against potential crime. Any individuals seeking to purchase marijuana products from home must pre-verify themselves through a robust age verification protocol before they ever submit a delivery order. Finally, all establishments must share their security plans with local law enforcement and the commission. I am confident that adult-use consumer sales will be as safe as medical marijuana delivery sales, which have been operational for years.
The commission is excited to offer these licenses for another fundamental reason. For the first three years after the first marijuana delivery operator commences operations, both delivery licenses will be available exclusively to entrepreneurs who have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. Certified Economic Empowerment Priority applicants and Social Equity Program participants will also receive waived or reduced licensing fees along with expedited review. These equity applicants deserve a chance to succeed in this burgeoning industry.
While we have not solved the challenge to create a more equitable market, we strive to expand access and have made substantial progress in bringing about that reality. We invite equity applicants, current operators, and state and local government to continue its partnership with the commission and engage in deeper collaboration to ensure these businesses succeed while also upholding our mutual commitment to protecting public health and safety.
I believe licensed adult-use consumer delivery will combat the illicit market, promote an equitable cannabis industry, bring needed revenue to municipalities, and further our obligation to uphold the will of the voters. The sky did not fall when retail sales began two years ago, and the sky will not fall when delivery sales commence, either.
Steven J. Hoffman is the chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission.