Retail marijuana not happening July 1, lab snag is latest hurdle

There will be no legal recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts on July 1. And though regulators expect to approve business licenses next week, there can be no legal retail sales until an independent testing laboratory applies and is licensed by the Cannabis Control Commission.

The CCC on Tuesday formally asked its staff to prioritize the review of license applications for independent testing laboratories, a critical link of the supply chain without which no retail shops can open since state law requires all marijuana sold to be tested and approved by a lab.

Regulators had targeted July 1 as the beginning of legal retail sales, but so far the CCC has only approved one provisional license: for a cultivation facility in Milford. The CCC will not consider additional licenses until July 2, chairman Steven Hoffman said Tuesday.

So far, the CCC has not received any completed license applications from independent testing labs, though one lab has begun its application with the CCC.

"We do have one lab application that's in the queue. We've talked to the labs, the four operators of the medical marijuana labs, and our expectation, I don't have timing, but our expectation is that they'll all apply," Hoffman told reporters Tuesday.

He said that giving independent testing labs priority application review "seemed like an essential thing to do to make sure that we had all pieces of the value chain in place so we can launch this industry."

The CCC voted unanimously to allow its staff to review out of order any completed independent testing lab application submitted by Aug. 1, "purely for the purposes of being able to get the independent testing labs to the front of the queue so that we can start to establish a supply chain that is consistent with the statute," Commissioner Britte McBride said.

The acknowledgement Tuesday that there will be no legal retail sales until the CCC licenses a testing lab made clear that the CCC would not meet its goal of launching the industry approved by voters in 2016 by July 1, a target date that was first used by the Legislature and adopted by Hoffman and the CCC in September.

"I have resisted making a forecast and I will continue to resist making a forecast. We are going to issue licenses on an ongoing basis, they have to become final licenses, we have to get city and town approval; there are too many moving parts so I'm not making a forecast," Hoffman said Tuesday. He said the lack of testing labs is "another reason why I'm just not making a forecast about timing, it's another one of the moving parts that has to come together."

Asked what he would say to people who voted to legalize the drug and had been expecting to be able to walk into a marijuana store and have the same experience Hoffman had in Colorado two years ago -- when he bought a joint at a retail shop and watched some Independence Day fireworks -- Hoffman apologized without being apologetic.

"I understand those expectations and I'm sorry that people have expectations that were not met, I am truly sorry about that. That being said, our objective is to satisfy the will of the voters of the state of Massachusetts to build a fair and safe and equitable industry. We are doing so. There is nothing in the law that says it has to be July 1," he said. "Again, I'm sorry people's expectations were not met. On the other hand, I hope that people understand that we're trying to build this industry consistent with the law and consistent with the will of the voters and we are committed to making that happen."

Hoffman said he expects the CCC will vote on approving "a handful" of licenses when it meets next, on Monday. After approving its first license last week, Hoffman said he expected that the CCC would consider license applications at each subsequent meeting. Tuesday's meeting did not include votes on license applications, Hoffman said, because of "an incredibly quick turnaround from our meeting last Thursday to today."

As of Tuesday, 31 entities have applied for 61 business licenses and the CCC has begun to review those applications. The review process includes a background check and a 60-day window during which the municipality in which the business hopes to locate must certify that the applicant has met all local requirements.

Executive Director Shawn Collins said Tuesday that the pending stack includes 22 applications to cultivate marijuana, 18 applications for retail licenses, 15 applications to produce marijuana-infused products, three research laboratory applications, two applications from microbusinesses, and one application to transport marijuana.

He said the applications have come in from 40 registered marijuana dispensary (RMD) companies, three applicants who are part of the CCC's economic empowerment program and 18 applicants that did not receive priority review status from the commission.


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