It's now been more than six months since sales of legal recreational marijuana began in Massachusetts. The chairman of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, Steve Hoffman, spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the legal pot industry. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: You're in charge of licensing marijuana businesses. Where are we right now? What are the numbers?
Steve Hoffman: We have 171 provisional licenses that have been issued. We have 46 open facilities, including 19 retail stores. As of the end of May, there has been approximately $140 million in retail sales in the state since we opened the first stores in November.
Howard: And this is not clustered in one space, this is in all corners of the state?
Hoffman: At our public meetings every two weeks, we put up a map, and it is, for the most part, scattered around the state.
Howard: Well so far we're talking stores, but there have been talks about marijuana cafes, things like that. Where does that stand?
Hoffman: On the table are two sets of policies — one to authorize social cafes, one to authorize home delivery. They are now being translated into regulations, and we will vote on those regulations in a couple of weeks.
Howard: When it comes to the cafes, some communities have talked about issues like odors and noise.
Howard: How do you expect to deal with that?
Hoffman: We put together a working group that recommended that smoking not be allowed indoors. Vaping would be allowed indoors, but only if there was an adequate ventilation system in place.
Howard: Well one of the other big issues that has been raised time and time again is the issue of people driving under the influence of marijuana. With alcohol, of course, there's the breathalyzer test. What do you have for marijuana?
Hoffman: There is no comparable test that's accepted in court. Under the law, we had to impanel a special commission. It made a report to the legislature, and based upon that report, the governor has introduced legislation that would include more field sobriety tests and allowing people to submit to a blood test if required by an officer of the law. The governor introduced that legislation earlier this year and it's tracking, as far as I know.
Howard: The governor wants to align the federal laws with the state laws. That must be complicated when you're running a thing like you do.
Hoffman: There's no question that the contradiction between federal and state law creates some impediments, banking being one example.
Howard: You have to do all cash.
Hoffman: There are a few Massachusetts banks that have entered the industry, which is great.
Howard: How many banks are on board?
Hoffman: Five or six.
Howard: Is that enough?
Hoffman: No. It's enough for now. But it's not enough as we continue to grow the industry.
Howard: Some have been critical of the commission for not doing enough to make sure that the business licenses are getting into the hands of minority owners, which is part of the mandate for the commission — to ensure that the communities that were hardest hit by marijuana prohibitions benefit the most. But there have been reports of minority executives in title only, but with little or no power.
Hoffman: I've seen those reports, obviously. We go several layers back to understand who's providing the financing, who's got decision making control. And if someone is applying for one of the licenses that social equity applicants are alone eligible for, we'll peel back the onion as much as necessary to make sure that indeed they're the people that are benefiting from the license.
Howard: Well The Boston Globe Spotlight team has done a lot on your commission and the roll-out.
Hoffman: I am aware of that fact [laughs].
Howard: So the number of shops owned by one company is limited to three, but it appears that some are skirting that rule. How are you addressing that?
Hoffman: So when we took over the medical program from the Department of Public Health, they told us that they had an investigation. When we took over, we continued the investigation. Most of the other things that were in the Globe article were about the intentions of companies that have not yet applied for licenses. If and when they do, we're going to do the kind of analysis I just described in terms of peeling back the onion, ensuring that people are not skirting our regulations. We are committed to enforcing every single one of our regulations.
Howard: One of the criticisms has been that there's been a lot of focus on the business of these dispensaries and not enough on the health consequences. A large group of frontline pediatricians, mental health experts, addiction clinicians from places like Children's Hospital, Mass General, Boston Medical Center — they have come out with a report. They're saying that preliminarily, since the law was passed legalizing marijuana, they have seen this uptick. They're specifically looking at children, many of them, on issues of schizophrenia, depression, paranoia, suicide, anxiety. These are patients who daily imbibe in marijuana. What are we doing to make sure that things like gummy worms with marijuana aren't attractive to children?
Hoffman: That's really important, and we put in place very restrictive regulations with respect to packaging so that it wouldn't look like candies.
Howard: What's with the gummy worms then? Say I'm over 21, I have children at home, and I bring home gummy worms and brownies and things that are attractive to kids. They may not intentionally be trying to get high, but my 3-year-old gets into them.
Hoffman: Part of it is there also has to be some responsibility on the part of consumers. I share the concerns that this organization is articulating, that you're articulating, I absolutely do. I will say that one of the things I have learned in my year and a half plus doing this is, we're not creating a new industry here. We are legalizing an industry that exists. People have been buying and selling and consuming for a long time. And I personally believe, from a public health standpoint — this is my personal opinion — we're better off recognizing that this industry is going exist with or without regulation. But with regulation, we can do a much better job of making it safe, keeping it out of the hands of people under 21. That being said, we have to do it right, and we will continue to do everything we can to learn from our experience and do it right and make it better where we need to.