Equity Project State Briefing
Is Cannabis Legal in Massachusetts?
Cannabis in Massachusetts is legal for both medical and adult use.
Date of Legalization
Massachusetts legalized the medical use of cannabis in the 2012 November election cycle,. The law took effect January 1, 2013. The state legalized the adult use of cannabis in the 2016 November election cycle. As a result, cannabis became legal for adults to grow and possess in Massachusetts on December 15, 2016.
Within Massachusetts adult use framework, adults 21+ may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, except that not more than 5 grams of marijuana may be in the form of marijuana concentrate. Adults may possess up to 10 ounces and up to 6 plants within their home. Within the medical framework, patients may possess a 60 day supply (10 ounces unless given special medical permission) and up to 12 home plants.
Other Licensing Provisions
- License Caps:
Massachusetts adult use framework does not have any license caps at the state level. The total number of licenses in a community is locally controlled. However, a single licensee is capped at 3 marijuana retailer licenses, 3 medical marijuana treatment center licenses, 3 marijuana product manufacturer licenses and 3 marijuana cultivator licenses.
Localities may opt out of participating in the adult use cannabis market, however after 2019 localities must submit any proposed restrictions to the voters.There is a carve out protecting medical cannabis operators existing prior to 2017, as a an ordinance can not prevent the conversion of a medical marijuana treatment center to a [adult use] marijuana establishment engaged in the same type of activity.
Application Selection Process
- Selection System:
In Massachusetts adult use cannabis licenses are distributed based on merit. The Commission will review adult use cannabis licensure applications based on its priority status and when it was submitted. Within 90 days of license application submission, the Commission will issue either a provisional license or a rejection.
License applications shall be evaluated based on the applicant’s:
- Demonstrated compliance with the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth;
- Suitability for licensure based on the provisions within the law (935 CMR 500.101(1), 500.800 and 500.801;) and
- Evaluation of the thoroughness of the applicant’s responses to the required criteria. The Commission shall consider each license application submitted by an applicant on a rolling basis.
Felony Disqualification on Ownership
- Ownership Exclusion for Felony Convictions:
- Exemption for Cannabis Offenses:
Massachusetts’ adult use framework disqualifies applicants for cannabis licensure on the basis of certain convictions. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission conducts criminal background checks on prospective adult use cannabis business owners. A license cannot be granted to anyone with a prior felony conviction. The law creates a carve out, protecting individuals with qualified marijuana-related convictions and possession of a controlled substance convictions, unless the offense involved distribution to a minor.
Employee Criminal Records
- Conviction Restrictions for Employees:
- Exemption for Cannabis Offenses:
In Massachusetts, all employees at a cannabis establishment must apply for an Agent Registration Card [work permit] which requires a state background check. Individuals with felony convictions are prohibited from working in the industry. The law creates a carve out, protecting individuals with qualified marijuana-related convictions and possession of a controlled substance unless the offense involved distribution to a minor.
Availability of Expungements
Massachusetts offers record cleaning for offenses which are no longer illegal under state law, however, the process is not automatic.
Social Equity Definition / Criteria
In the Massachusetts adult use sector, The Social Equity Program is not a license type. Upon completion of this program, participants will have acquired tools and training to apply for and obtain a license through the Cannabis Control Commission (Commission), but program participation does not guarantee licensure. In addition to the state’s Social Equity Program, the Commission will provide priority licensing review to “Certified Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants.” Social Equity Program participants and Certified Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants have exclusive access to three license types for a period of time.
Social Equity Program
Applicants are eligible for the Social Equity Program if they demonstrate they meet at least one of the following criteria:
Certified Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants
In accordance with state law, the Commission will provide priority licensing review to Certified Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants who demonstrate at least three of the following six criteria:
Social Equity Provisions
Massachusetts social equity program offers participants the following benefits:
License Priorities and Set Asides
In Massachusetts, social consumption establishment licenses, marijuana delivery operator licenses, and marijuana courier (formerly known as delivery-only) licenses are limited on an exclusive basis to businesses controlled by majority ownership of “Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants” or “Social Equity Program” participants. However, this exclusivity period is only for 24 months for the marijuana courier licenses and 36 months for social consumption establishments licenses and marijuana delivery operator licenses.
Fee Waivers and Reductions
Massachusetts waives adult use cannabis application fees for Social Equity Program participants. Massachusetts offers a 50% reduced rate on annual licensing fees for businesses with majority Social Equity Program or Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants and Massachusetts Minority Business Enterprises (MBE), Women Business Enterprises (WBE), and Veteran Business Enterprises (VBE). For annual Delivery Licensee fees there is a 100% reduction in the initial licensing fee for Social Equity and Economic Empowerment Priority Applicants. Upon renewal and each year after there is a 50% reduction.
Other Financial Support for Social Equity Applicants and Licensees
Massachusetts currently does not have funding specifically allocated to support their social equity program. However the state does have a Marijuana Regulation Fund which is subject to appropriation. Money in the Marijuana Regulation Fund can be expended for a multitude of activities including industry specific technical assistance, and mentoring services for economically-disadvantaged persons in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses.