Recreational marijuana sales have been booming in Massachusetts, and the numbers don’t lie. Folks spent a pretty penny on cannabis in 2019 — the first full year of legitimate recreational cannabis brought in close to $400 million in recreational adult-use sales. From that, the state collected $61 million in taxes.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue and the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) released figures in November, and the initial news is good, at least from a tax-generating standpoint. Since recreational cannabis officially kicked off with two dispensaries on November 20, 2018, the state has pulled in $9.1 million in local option taxes, $19 million in sales taxes, and $32.8 million in state excise taxes. And that is just the start.
Dispensaries serving customers in the state have jumped from two to 33. In an interview with MassLive.com, Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman acknowledged that the work was starting, outlining five specific areas of focus. Let’s check out what’s on the horizon for Massachusetts recreational marijuana.
There are hundreds of pending licenses in the hopper (395 to be exact), which means there will most certainly be additional retail locations for customers. The CCC is proceeding carefully, with strategies on approving licenses to ensure an even distribution of stores throughout the state.
Licensed stores are still finding it hard to compete with the black market — and lack of supply is one issue. Some stores limit sales to a quarter-ounce flower at a time — and testing delays also limit progress. The state currently has two labs in which to test the entire state’s product supply before it enters the marketplace.
Banking on banking
One of the biggest stories in 2019 (and one of the biggest headaches for those operating in the legal cannabis realm) is the lack of proper banking options. In Massachusetts, there are three banks offering services to the cannabis industry, and there’s the word that a fourth, unnamed bank is going to officially enter the market. The CCC is facilitating conversations to help get the banking industry comfortable with the idea of offering banking services to cannabis companies.
The CCC, from the outset, created a social equity program to offer special licenses, training, and mentor support to those individuals meeting criteria as being disproportionately hurt by the war on drugs. A little over one year in and the industry still struggles with diversity in the cannabis industry — despite the lofty goals. The bottleneck is financing — yet another reason banking services are essential. Out of the 7,000 approved and pending employees in the state’s cannabis industry, 73 percent self-identified as caucasian, and 66 percent identified as male.
“Not in my backyard.”
First and foremost, the cannabis industry needs to expand to meet demand, and the communities need to hurry up with their marijuana regulations. Until those are settled and implemented, the CCC can’t process applications. The CCC plans to address the delay in towns that are willing to allow cannabis businesses to operate within their jurisdictions — a problem enhanced by some cities asking marijuana companies for payments and contracts above what the state envisioned during the planning stages. There’s legislation in the works that will specify whether or not the CCC has the authority to review those contracts and payment terms.
The medical marijuana marketplace has been under the purview of the CCC since December, and changes have been swift. The CCC waived the annual $50 medical card registration fee to minimize financial hardships to those low-income and disabled patients. Medical patients can purchase cannabis from the recreational market. There are still benefits to the medical program, however — including tax-free marijuana.
The CCC is working to improve the lives of medical marijuana patients in the state — their goal is to involve physicians and nurse practitioners in the continued care of medical marijuana patients — from actively managing prescriptions of cannabis to researching dosage and frequency of use.