It is official: Recreational marijuana sales have begun in Massachusetts. Two pot shops — one in Leicester, one in Northampton — started selling recreational products to customers today. They are the first businesses to sell recreational pot east of the Mississippi. Steve Hoffman is the chair of the state's Cannabis Control Commission, which regulates this budding industry. Hoffman spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the first day of sales. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: So a question on everyone's mind is what took so long? Sales could have begun as early as July under the law.
Steve Hoffman: Well, there was no mandate in the legislation about when sales had to start. The mandate was, we could not issue licenses before July 1st of this year. The Cannabis Control Commission got appointed about 14 months ago — Sept. 1 of 2017 — and from day one, we said we're going to do this right, we're not going to rush to hit any arbitrary deadlines. So we feel like we've lived up to that.
Howard: How has the first day been?
Hoffman: We’re hearing there are long lines. It's cold and wet, but it's orderly.
Howard: How much has been sold on this first day?
Hoffman: We get daily downloads. They're done at the end of business. There's no-real time reporting that’s going on. We're not going to know probably until tomorrow morning how much was sold at each of the two facilities.
Howard: Have there been security issues?
Hoffman: Not that I'm aware of. The crowds are big, but I've been told they're orderly. There is a police presence at both facilities. I think both companies, NETA and Cultivate, should be commended, because they did a lot of thoughtful planning about crowd control and making sure that things were well-organized.
Howard: With Massachusetts being the only place you can buy marijuana recreationally east of the Mississippi, are you seeing out-of-state license plates?
Hoffman: I'm sure some people from Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island have come. They need to understand that it is a federal crime to transport these products across state lines.
Howard: So they can't take it back?
Hoffman: They cannot take it back legally, no.
Howard: When and where do you expect the next shops to open? Any in the Boston area?
Hoffman: We have 22 other retail licenses that we have provisionally approved, and — I'm looking at a map right now — they are pretty much all across the state, including three in Suffolk County. I have stayed away from giving specific forecasts of timing just because the licensees have to build up their facilities, and we have to go inspect.
Howard: But of course this took two years to get these two initial shops open, since the vote was taken to legalize marijuana by residents in 2016. Is there any chance it's going to take another two years to get more shops open?
Hoffman: No. We now have an agency. We have staff. We have processes. We are going through these applications, I think, in pretty rapid pace. Once we get an application, we have to ask the cities or towns in which these facilities are located to say that everything is okay from their perspective, with respect to their bylaws and zoning. They have 60 days to get back to us. We don't have control over that. Facilities, once they get a provisional license, have to build their facilities out. Some of them said they're going to take a few months before they're ready to have us come back and inspect those facilities.
Howard: At this point, you've built out the system, you're ready to continue putting people out there and putting them online with their sales. What’s the next shop in the pipeline? Which is the most advanced in the system?
Hoffman: There are 19 provisional licenses, there is one final license for a company — a retail store in Wareham.
Howard: So that Wareham store may likely be the next one?
Hoffman: Likely, but again, they have to build their facility out and tell us they're ready to be inspected.
Howard: Are we talking about a matter of months, weeks or years at this point?
Hoffman: No, it's not years, but they have to build out a facility and tell us when they're ready to be inspected. I don't mean to dodge your question, but it’s better served asking them, because we've done everything we can do until they tell us they're ready to have their final inspection.
Howard: So you see things moving more rapidly at this point?
Hoffman: I do. I see things at a steady pace, as the commission meets in public every two weeks. We've been averaging somewhere between eight and 10 provisional licenses for approval at each of those meetings, and somewhere between four and six final licenses.
I think every couple of weeks, every couple months, there will be more and more stores open. But what I won't do, because again, there are so many things that are not under our control, I won't give you a point forecast. But it's going to be a pretty steady process of licenses getting approved and stores opening. There's no question in my mind, just given the flow of applications that are coming into the commission and our process of managing that flow.
Howard: OK. Well thank you so much.
Hoffman: Sure, my pleasure.
Howard: That's Steve Hoffman, chair of the state's Cannabis Control Commission. Today was the first day that people could legally purchase recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, with two shops, one in Northampton the other in Leicester, making the first sales. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.