Massachusetts is grappling with new and lingering issues as the state's recreational marijuana industry continues to grow. WGBH News’ Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Northeastern University law professor and WGBH’s legal analyst Daniel Medwed about the latest in Massachusetts’ marijuana business. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: There were months of delays before the launch of retail pot stores in November, and there are still none in the city of Boston. Mayor Walsh has told us that the city is done with its part. So we're waiting on the state?
Daniel Medwed: I think that's right. Though I would attribute fault to both the city and the state. Boston's received a lot of criticism — much of it warranted — for having a less-than-clear selection and vetting process, and for not doing enough to advantage communities that were ravaged by the war on drugs and making sure that they get a healthy slice of this economic pie. But that said, Mayor Walsh is right. The city of Boston has entered into host community agreements with, I believe, nine or 10 recreational marijuana businesses, and that's a critical first step on the path to setting up a shop in Boston. The ball is now very much in the state's court. So I think it's imminent we're going to see a shop in the hub pretty soon. In the meantime, there are two retail shops in the Greater Boston vicinity: one in Brookline, one in Newton. Though they are operating with some restrictions.
Mathieu: Restrictions on the amounts they can sell?
Medwed: That's right. As you've reported on Morning Edition before, the Brookline shop, which opened in March, is currently limiting customers — for the most part — to only purchasing one eighth of an ounce, even though you can get up to an ounce under Massachusetts state law. The Newton shop, which just opened about 10 days ago, it's brand new, has a program where you have to make an advance appointment online. Doesn't look like you want to just show up and appear, you've got to get organized and make an appointment online. And once you do show up, you basically have to buy the product with either cash or debit cards. The credit card industry is still understandably a bit leery about the marijuana sector, given the banks are heavily federally regulated, and marijuana is still, at least nominally, illegal at the federal level.
Mathieu: So demand then exceeds supply. They're worried about people stretching around the block or selling out altogether. Which brings us, Daniel, to delivery services. State regulators have talked about it but they have not approved it. [It] might help alleviate the supply issue.
Medwed: Well, that's exactly right. Home delivery would really help alleviate the supply issue, and it would meet all of this demand. Back in late April, the Cannabis Control Commission, which is the state agency that oversees this sector of our economy, tentatively sanctioned the idea of home delivery services. They said that this could be a market of economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities. Over the first two years they're targeting that delivery licenses would go to people who've come through the state economic empowerment and social equity programs.
Mathieu: We've talked a lot about these programs — normally about how they're failing. That's really been the headline so far. Why has it been such a challenge?
Medwed: Well, it's been a challenge, and I think the bad news is it's poorly funded. There's just not much money in these programs. Last week, the Massachusetts Legislature actually rejected a bill that would have funded no-interest business loans to disadvantaged communities to set up marijuana businesses. The legislature didn't want to pay the money. So that is the bad news; we just haven't put enough money into these programs to make them successful. The good news, though, is that the delivery market doesn't require as much upfront capital to set up your business, as opposed to setting up a brick and mortar retail shop or a manufacturing shop. So it might be a way for people of limited means [and for] communities that were ravaged by the war on drugs to get up and running in this business.
Mathieu: So is there a timeline on delivery taking effect, or are we not that far yet?
Medwed: Best-case scenario, if I had to hazard a guess, I think at the end of the year. The commission was supposed to vote on some delivery regulations last week, but it punted — it deferred until the end of June. So even if they vote favorably in June, there would have to be a public comment period [and] the commission would incorporate the public comments into the new [regulations]. So we're looking at the late fall, maybe early 2020.