The last year was a busy one for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, as the three-and-a-half-year-old state agency continued refining state regulations while shepherding new cannabis business license types into the fold.
“We currently have 345 licenses in total,” said Steven Hoffman, chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission in a telephone interview with Grown In. “We did work hard.”
A centerpiece of the CCC’s 2021 work was bringing the first legal delivery operators online. Microbusinesses were authorized to deliver, while companies that warehouse cannabis and are allowed to sell it to directly to retail customers were also permitted to start operating. The state also approved a courier license type that allows companies to partner with existing dispensaries to deliver in a manner similar to DoorDash or Uber Eats.
A key component to state cannabis regulation is to facilitate bringing underground operators into the legal fold. Allowing legal delivery creates a way to undercut illegal dealers who are willing to drive to their customers, according to Hoffman.
“There’s always going to be an illicit market,” he said. “I think delivery is going to take a big chunk out of it.”
In addition to expanding a viable delivery market, 2022 will require the CCC to continue supporting a growing market for cannabis cultivators.
Regulators noted that there were 164 provisional cultivation licenses in November while there were only 93 final licenses, which indicates that numerous new cultivators are on the cusp of entering the market. It remains to be seen how many of these prospective operators will be able to survive in the increasing saturated market.
“Cultivation is very expensive, especially in our climate,” said Hoffman. “Indoor cultivation dominates the incoming crop of licenses.”
On the national scene, cannabis advocates have been watching Congress to see if federal legalization was a possibility. If cannabis were to be legalized, this could upend efforts from Massachusetts, and other new-comer states, to create a sustainable cultivation market.
“California could supply the whole country,” said Hoffman. Although he expects legalization to be inevitable on the federal level, Hoffman said that it was too hard to tell how soon that might happen.
“When we started, we looked to Washington, Oregon and Colorado,” said Hoffman. At the time, those three states and Alaska were the only ones that had legalized recreational cannabis.
Since then, Massachusetts now finds itself as a model for the rest of New England, whose states are all at various stages of the legalization process.
Adult-use cannabis was legalized in Maine in 2016, the same year as Massachusetts, but resistance from then Republican Governor Paul LePage. The former governor vetoed the legislation’s commercial regulatory bill in late 2017, but the legislature overrode him in May, 2018. The political conflict pushed back recreational sales to fall 2020.
Vermont’s legislature legalized adult-use cannabis in October 2020, while Connecticut’s legislature did the same in July, 2021. Both states are currently in the process of writing the regulation for their respective emerging markets.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have yet to legalize recreational cannabis, but both states are expected to address the issue in 2022.
“I’ve spoken with regulators in Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island,” said Hoffman.
As Massachusetts settles into its role within the cannabis industry as a wizened elder despite still in a developmental stage, 2022 will likely bring more of the same for the fine-tuning mission of the Cannabis Control Commission, according to Hoffman.
“In 2022 it won’t be new challenges, as much as a continuation of what we’re currently working on,” he said.
Beyond that, Hoffman declined to make any assumptions about what the next year may hold.
“I’m making no forecasts,” he said.