Pubdate: Sun, 01 Apr 2018
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Dan Adams


On Monday at noon, decades of debate all come down to this: a click of
a computer mouse by a state technology contractor.

With that, the Massachusetts state government's system for legal pot
use will blink to life, and businesses can begin applying for licenses
to grow, process, and sell cannabis to adults 21 and older.

The behind-the-scenes milestone will not have an immediate impact on
consumers. But it does mark the beginning of a process that regulators
expect will lead to the debut of recreational pot sales in July.

And for longtime activists, it's a moment some believed might never

"I speculated this could happen, but I never dreamed that I would live
to see it," said Lester Grinspoon, an 89-year-old former Harvard
psychiatry professor who in the 1970s helped found the movement that
culminated in voters' decision in 2016 to legalize the drug. "It
certainly is gratifying."

With sales poised to begin in July, what can consumers expect?

On Monday, the application process will open to certain businesses
that qualify for expedited review: medical marijuana dispensaries that
are already open or have a provisional permit, and so-called economic
empowerment applicants - companies that are either led by, employ, or
benefit communities that had high rates of arrests for drug crimes.
This is part of a broader effort to redress racial disparities in the
past enforcement of marijuana prohibition.

Qualifying companies will be allowed to submit full license
applications beginning April 16 for any type of marijuana business.
Next, on May 1, the state will begin accepting applications from
cultivation firms, craft marijuana-growing cooperatives, and other
small businesses. Finally, retail stores, makers of marijuana-derived
products, and transportation companies can begin applying June 1.

Medical dispensaries, especially those already open and serving
patients, are champing at the bit to add a recreational license to
their operations.

"We've got our incorporating documents, financial statements,
operating agreements - all that stuff - ready to go," said Norton
Arbelaez, director of government affairs for New England Treatment
Access, a medical marijuana group that operates dispensaries in
Northampton and Brookline and has a cultivation operation in Franklin.

Arbelaez said the company is already changing its processes, such as
redesigning its packages for edible marijuana products for a new
warning label, to comply with regulations issued by the Massachusetts
Cannabis Control Commission.

However, Arbelaez and others in the cannabis business agree that the
main challenge for operators won't be getting through the state
licensing system, but rather through city and town halls.

Before they can get a state recreational pot license, companies must
find locations that comply with municipal zoning, hold a public
hearing, and negotiate a so-called "host community agreement" with
local officials. Many predict this strong system of local control,
plus the five-to six-month period required to grow marijuana, will
mean that very few cannabis stores will be ready to open this summer.

"Ultimately, municipalities are the gatekeepers," Arbelaez said.

Nonetheless, the start of the application process brings with it a new
sense of momentum, following a six-month delay imposed by the
Legislature and a monthslong debate over the nitty-gritty of the rules
for the recreational industry.

"It's an exciting step," said Steve Hoffman, chairman of the cannabis
commission. "It's starting to become real."

Hoffman said state technology contractors and commission staff would
be stress-testing the online system over the weekend to ensure it can
handle a flood of submissions.

But the agency's meager staff - just nine people today, eventually
swelling to about 37 - may be the bigger constraint on how
applications are processed. Hoffman pledged the small crew will work
long hours to keep a backlog of applications from building.

Hoffman, who previously led software firms in the private sector,
added that while he was confident the system should be able to handle
a large volume, "the tech gods do have their own mind."

Kamani Jefferson, head of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumers
Council, which represents pot consumers, said he was concerned about
municipal foot-dragging and local zoning rules that favor established

Still, Jefferson said, he felt relief that the long journey to
legalization seemed to be nearing an end.

"You feel it in the air," Jefferson said. "You feel it in
conversations with consumers and potential business owners. It's
something new; it's exciting.

"It's not going to be overnight, but it's definitely here in
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