On opening day, pot regulators eye new stores "every couple of weeks"

While hundreds braved the cold rain and snow Tuesday for the chance to legally buy marijuana, the Cannabis Control Commission was back to work processing more than a dozen additional cannabis business applications as it continues to ramp up the industry.

Though only two retail stores began selling non-medical marijuana Tuesday, the CCC has given at least initial approval to almost two dozen more retailers and expects that they will come online on a rolling basis.

The CCC marked the first legal marijuana sale with a small ceremony in its offices Tuesday morning, but by afternoon it was back to combing through license applications to put more growers and sellers in the queue.

"This is obviously a major milestone for the commission and, more importantly, for the state. It is something that we have been working, as a commission, extraordinarily hard on for slightly over fourteen months," CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said. "It's only two stores but it represents, I think, a formidable accomplishment from a standing start fourteen months ago where we not only developed regulations, issued licenses ... but built an agency to enforce those regulations going forward."

Hoffman said no hiccups had been reported to the CCC from either retailer that launched recreational sales Tuesday -- New England Treatment Access in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester -- and said all indications were that things were moving along smoothly.

"I think the crowds are orderly, I think they're being taken well care of and, most importantly, patients are being granted immediate access to the facility so there is no disruption to the patients," he said.

Though he took a few minutes at the start of Tuesday's commission meeting to mark the milestone of opening retail stores, Hoffman quoted Sir Winston Churchill as he reminded the commission that its work is really only getting started.

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning," Hoffman said.

On Tuesday, the CCC approved so-called final licenses for two more retailers -- Alternative Therapies Group, Inc. at 50 Grove St. in Salem and I.N.S.A., Inc. at 122 Pleasant St. in Easthampton. Another retailer, Pharmacannis Massachusetts in Wareham, has already been given a final license.

After being given a final license, a business must satisfy the CCC's conditions and then wait for the CCC's notice to commence full operations before beginning sales.

Hoffman said he thinks more retail stores will open to recreational customers "quickly," but said the ball is in the businesses' court now.

"We have now three final retail licenses that have been issued on top of the two that opened today," the chairman said. "They've got to get their inventory into METRC [the seed-to-sale tracking system] and they've got to let us come out and do a physical inventory inspection. Those three stores will be open as quickly as that happens. That's at the control of the licensees."

He added, "I think you're going to see, every couple of weeks, a couple of new stores and not just stores, but cultivation sites and manufacturing facilities."

Until more stores open, the stores in Leicester and Northampton must try to satisfy the demand for legal pot. Hoffman said he does not anticipate any issues with supply of marijuana while just two stores are open.

"We've worked with both of the existing licensees that opened today and they've assured us that they feel they have adequate supply, so I hope they're right," he said. "There's going to be a lot of demand, there's no question about it."

Also Tuesday, the CCC approved provisional licenses for three more retailers -- Atlantic Medicinal Partners, Inc. at 774 Crawford St. in Fitchburg, Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, Inc. at 9 Harrison St. in Worcester and Sanctuary Medicinals, Inc. at 16 Pearson Blvd., Gardner -- four provisional cultivation licenses and five provisional product manufacturer licenses.

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