Since the 2016 election, there have been four more states working towards implementing voter-approved cannabis legalization laws. But, so far only two have gotten to see their first legal retail sales. While California and Nevada have both already begun legal sales, the first two states on the east coast to legalize cannabis – Massachusetts and Maine – are still dragging their feet – and it’s costing Massachusetts tax revenue that their 2019 budget was based on.
“Due to delays in licensing, actual collections of marijuana tax revenues may be lower than originally projected,” officials wrote in recent financial disclosures.
Originally, it was expected that residents would see retail sales beginning no later than January 2018 – but a small group of legislators managed to push this back to July 2018, a deadline that has long passed without word on a new targeted deadline.
“The Cannabis Control Commission needs to pick up the pace,” Will Luzier, who managed the 2016 ballot campaign in Massachusetts, said at a press conference outside the State House. “We’re not here for cannabis operators, we’re here for the consumers and voters of the commonwealth that don’t understand why this is taking so long.”
At this point, the delay is not only frustrating those who worked hard to get this law passed, but it is starting to cost the state money.
Near the end of 2017, officials at the Department of Revenue estimated fiscal 2019 marijuana taxes bringing in between $44-82 million. These were also the numbers used when factoring in marijuana tax revenue into the state’s budget. Luzier estimates that the state is losing roughly $176,000 each day since passing the July 1st deadline the budget was based on.
There is a spot of good news on the subject though, as by the end of the week, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission is expected to be awarding final licenses for two existing medical cannabis dispensaries that have applied to also sell adult-use cannabis.
Unfortunately, even though these businesses are pre-existing and already have products on their shelves, sales are not likely to begin the very next day. State laws require that adult-use marijuana and marijuana-derived products be tested for contaminants and potency by an independent and specialized lab – of which the state has only approved two with provisional licenses, neither of which have a final approval.
Until these labs are licensed and up and running, retail cannabis sales will still have to wait, but they are much closer to becoming a reality in Massachusetts with each passing day. For now, consumers will have to be patient for those dispensary doors to open – and the state better kick it in high gear if they want to have the amount of tax revenue they were counting on to keep their budget balanced.