The roll out of legalized marijuana in Massachusetts has experienced some much-publicized delays. But the opening of recreational pot shops seems imminent. WGBH's Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu discussed the roll out with WGBH Legal Analyst and Northeastern Law Professor Daniel Medwed in another installment of our series, “Deep in the Weeds with Daniel.” The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Two years after voters came out in favor of legalized recreational marijuana, and months after the intended launch for legalization, we still haven't seen anything. You cannot go to the store to buy marijuana around here — no matter your age. Why do you think it's happening soon?
Daniel Medwed: Well, I think there are a couple reasons for optimism, if you're on the side of legalization, which most folks in Massachusetts are. First, just a few weeks ago, the Cannabis Control Commission issued some final licenses to brick and mortar recreational pot shops — one in Leicester and one in Northampton. It also issued three provisional licenses to groups out in Uxbridge, Oxford and Great Barrington. Now, one longtime hang up has been these host community agreements. Groups have to enter into agreements with the municipalities in which they intend to operate, and more than half the cities and towns in the commonwealth have gone on the record as firmly opposed to having pot shops in their borders. We seem to be making headway on that. Second, just last week, the commission issued two licenses to scientific labs, to conduct quality control testing for non-medical marijuana. Obviously, that's critical to the process. So I think even last week, the chairman of the commission went on the record saying, 'We're weeks away'.
Mathieu: It looks like three to four weeks —
Medwed: — so by Thanksgiving.
Mathieu: So that would be the idea. What about Boston itself though? I remember at one point, Mayor Walsh being concerned that this could turn into almost a red light zone for marijuana shops. But you're talking about Oxford, Uxbridge — places that some people can point to on a map who live in the city. Any chance this happens in the hub anytime soon?
Medwed: Well, I'm not sure if it's soon, but the wheels are starting to turn — the wheels on the hub are starting to turn. The good news, at least, is that Boston has entered into its first host community agreement with a retailer, a group called Green Line Inc., which has plans to set up shop or have operations in the new market area of the city. That's the good news. The bad news is that that's just the first step on a lengthy road to getting a final license. And also, there might be blowback from the community, because Boston has been attacked in some quarters as being less than transparent in its vetting process of potential retailers. So we're going to have to just wait and see on Boston.
Mathieu: I guess there's a different way you could do this, not just open a store, but also you could have a delivery service. And that came up this week when the Cannabis Control Commission met, talking about this at some point in the foreseeable future, that delivery might be an attractive alternative. What's the status, as you understand?
Medwed: That's a really important issue. Now there are already a bunch of illicit and so-called gray market delivery services out there. I'd steer clear of them given their dubious legality. But as you noted, Joe, it just came up at the last committee meeting. One of the commissioners, Britte McBride, went on the record and she said, 'Let's let micro-businesses handle delivery services.' Those are small businesses operated by Massachusetts residents that produce limited batches of marijuana. And it looks like the commission's pretty interested in pursuing it.
Mathieu: What's the point of that, though? Why not have the large-scale operators buy a fleet of vehicles, for instance?
Medwed: It does seem counterintuitive — it seems inefficient to have the small operators handle this instead of the big boys. But there are a bunch of rationales, at least, as articulated by Commissioner McBride. For one thing, it would allow marginalized populations, communities ravaged by the War on Drugs in Boston, to handle this sphere — to get a piece of the lucrative marijuana pie because they might not have access to a lot of capital that could allow them to have very big operations. In addition, starting small would benefit the commonwealth, because it would allow for better oversight and detection of any potential glitches. And there are going to be some snafus in the delivery process. So the commonwealth could watch and then tweak accordingly.
Mathieu: In the meantime, as our legal analyst, I'll ask you, if somebody calls one of these delivery services — and as you said, there are many of them — in some cases they'll sell you an empty bag and give you a gift of something to put inside. You can still be arrested for that right? That is illegal.
Medwed: Well, I'm going to be careful about legal advice over the air, but I would exercise caution.