A cashier rings up a marijuana sale at the Essence cannabis dispensary, July 1, 2017, in Las Vegas. Sales will begin in Massachusetts July 1, 2018. (John Locher, Associated Press)

Massachusetts cannabis commission rolls out preliminary rules, including delivery, social use

BOSTON — From “cannabis cafes” to “craft cooperatives,” regulators have been laying out a vision for what a potential multibillion dollar recreational marijuana industry might look like when retail sales begin next year in Massachusetts.

The Cannabis Control Commission reached tentative agreement over the past week on an array of rules and regulations required to implement the law approved by voters last November and later modified by the Legislature.

Promoting diversity and placing controls on the packaging, marketing and advertising of cannabis were other key issues discussed by the five-member panel, which is expected to formally approve the regulations in the coming days.

The rules would be open to public comment before being finalized in March.

Here are some highlights:

Social consumption

A pot shop typically works much like a liquor store: You go in, buy the product and take it home to consume.

Regulators in Massachusetts and other legal recreational marijuana states have wrestled with the issue of when, where and how to let people use pot in social settings and other establishments.

The commission ultimately settled on two types of on-site consumption licenses.

A primary use license would be for businesses that derive more than 50 percent of their income from marijuana sales. An example of such a business model would be a cannabis bar or cafe where patrons could gather and use marijuana with friends.

A major question, however, is whether smoking would be allowed in such establishments or if customers would be limited to using marijuana in other forms such as edibles. The commission plans to form a working group to make recommendations on “smoking and other forms of social consumption,” by July 1.

The second category, a mixed use license, would be available to businesses that may want to make cannabis available to customers in some fashion. Examples could include restaurants, movie theaters, yoga studios or even massage parlors that promote marijuana-infused lotions.

A restaurant, for example, might be able to offer a single-serving dish that has cannabis as an ingredient, but it couldn’t leave the premises. So forget takeout or doggy bags.

Home delivery

Can’t make it to the nearest marijuana store? Home delivery may be available under a strict set of rules laid out by the commission.

Upon delivery, drivers must obtain positive identification and proof that a buyer is 21 or older. The recipient must also sign for any delivery.

Products that are delivered must follow the same packaging requirements as if sold in a store. A single delivery of multiple products could not exceed $3,000 in value and deliveries could only be made during a store’s normal business hours.

Craft cooperatives

Craft cooperatives would allow groups of people — with each member required to have lived in Massachusetts for at least a year — to organize as a limited liability company or similar business structure.

The cooperatives would be licensed to operate up to six marijuana cultivation locations and up to three additional processing or manufacturing facilities. While they could package and brand marijuana products and deliver them to retailers, craft cooperatives would not be permitted to sell directly to consumers.

Marijuana research facilities

In what could foster greater scientific understanding of the health effects or medicinal value of cannabis, the commission agreed to create a special license category for marijuana research facilities.

Such facilities could cultivate or purchase marijuana, but not sell it.

Any testing done on humans would have to be approved by an institutional review board and test subjects must be 21 or older.


State lawmakers have made clear they want opportunities provided in the legal marijuana industry for economically disadvantaged people — particularly residents of minority neighborhoods who were harshly impacted by the so-called “war on drugs” in recent decades.

The commission agreed to designate as yet undefined “areas of disproportionate impact,” and offer what it called priority review for applicants for cannabis business licenses from those communities.

Applicants with a majority of owners who have lived in areas of disproportionate impact for at least five of the past 10 years would be offered priority review, as would any company in which at least 51 percent of employees or subcontractors have drug-related arrests on their records.

Priority review of an application would not guarantee a license.

All applicants, regardless of location or ownership makeup, would be required to submit to the commission an employment diversity plan and live up to that plan once licensed.