In 2016, Massachusetts citizens opted to make recreational cannabis legal in the commonwealth. But the first shops didn't open until 2018, when stores in Leicester and Northampton opened on the same day in November. Since then, an additional 21 retail establishments have opened in Massachusetts.

Forty-one million dollars a month sounds like a lot of green, but could there be more? Sure, but if you are among the people who wonder why the rollout was so slow, it's worth understanding more about what it takes for a legal cannabis business to start operating in Massachusetts.

WGBH News reporter Craig Lemoult — who has covered the industry's beginnings in the state since 2016, when he visited Colorado in advance of the ballot question that made cannabis legal there — said there's a lot that has to happen even beyond the application process. "The biggest issue that entrepreneurs are having right now is getting funding. The big corporate people don't have a problem with that, but others are having a harder time, because you can't get banks to back you because the product is still federally illegal," Lemoult said.

The process has a number of stages — among them provisional consideration, provisional approval, and final licensing. Getting through that process can take months or more than a year, depending on how fast a business can meet the state's requirements. That might sound like a lot of work, but that's not really where the holdup is.

Before a business receives a final license, there's one more hurdle that entrepreneurs have to clear: negotiating what's known as a "host community agreement" with the city or town in which the business hopes to open.

Getting a location "is the next big barrier," said Lemoult, "because you have to have host community agreements. And that's also another barrier for the smaller businesses who may not be able to afford what cities and towns are asking."

Many host communities ask up front for payments or extra percentages of sales before granting an agreement that would allow a shop to open its doors. "[Business owners] are finding getting a host community agreement to be difficult," said Shaleen Title, a commissioner on the Cannabis Control Commission.

Taken together, these factors, plus Massachusetts' relatively small population compared to other states where marijuana is legal, mean that our industry is smaller than those in other states.

These challenges create what some see as an unreasonable delay for people trying to break into the industry. They have also impeded the revenue stream the state is counting on from the new businesses. In July, Cannabis Control Commission Chair Steven Hoffman responded to questions from lawmakers concerned about the slow nature of the rollout. "Nowhere in the statute does it state that maximizing tax revenue, particularly in the short term, should dominate the other objectives, such as enhancing public health and safety ... and ensuring the participation of those communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition," said Hoffman.

Additionally, Massachusetts is the only state that has opted to add equity programs to promote minority-owned recreational cannabis businesses. Arrests and convictions for drug offenses have disproportionately affected communities of color, and activists want to ensure that minorities are not shut out of the nascent industry. According to license data from the Cannabis Control Commission, out of 500 applications, only 19 applicants were minority-owned businesses, and 11 were conomic empowerment applicants.

"We're not where we should be when it comes to what the industry looks like in terms of people of color, women and small businesses,” said Title. To help address the issue, the commission implemented a Social Equity Program that is meant to help disproportionately impacted communities get into the business.If approved, social consumption licenses — think of these as licenses for marijuana cafes — will only be available to certain classes of applicants, including licensed microbusinesses, for an exclusivity period of two years, in order to avoid large businesses taking over the entirety of the market.

Delivery-only businesses are considered a good way for entrepreneurs without the backing of large investors to get into the industry, and in Massachusetts, pending a final Commission vote, are restricted to applicants who are participants in the state's economic empowerment and social equity programs for the first two years.

However, if you’re waiting to open up your own shop as a minority, "You’re looking at waiting for a while," said Sieh "Chief" Samura, who is the cofounder of 612 Studios, a cannabis business in Roslindale. In fact, he says the best way to get into the marijuana business might be through selling products instead of trying to open a shop.

And when it comes to products, there's a lot to choose from. Usually, when people think about weed, they think about the green flower being rolled up in a joint or a tobacco blunt. In fact, data from the Cannabis Control Commission shows that “bud,” another name for the actual flower, is the most popular product that people buy from marijuana shops.

In second place comes edibles that come in the form of sweet treats like peach rings, fudge brownies, and other candies. However, there are more products than that. Samura's company has developed a marijuana-infused lubricant for couples who might need something a little different in the bedroom — a fact that shows when it comes to legal weed in Massachusetts, there really is something for everybody.