Retail marijuana businesses in two Massachusetts communities could be the first in the state to receive final licenses from regulators to sell recreational pot.
The Cannabis Control Commission scheduled the final licensing votes for its meeting on Thursday, and though approval would not allow the stores to immediately begin selling to the public, it could signal the long wait for the first pot shops to open in the eastern United States is finally nearing an end.
Cultivate Holdings and New England Treatment Access, or NETA for short, received provisional retail licenses from the commission in July. Both companies currently operate medical marijuana dispensaries; Cultivate in Leicester and NETA in Northampton.
In order to secure final approval to also sell recreational marijuana at those locations, the companies had to pass inspections, pay license fees and show they are in compliance with all local ordinances and zoning requirements.
Upon being issued final licenses, the stores would be poised to open following several other technical and procedural steps, including entering inventory into a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system.
Norton Arbelaez, NETA's director of governmental affairs, said the company was on the "one-yard line" when it comes to recreational sales, and hopeful about opening later this month.
"Obviously we know people have been waiting quite a long time and we have been anxiously waiting for this moment as well," he said.
Another potential obstacle, however, is that regulators have yet to issue any final licenses to independent testing labs that - under the law - are required to test all cannabis products for potency and possible contaminants.
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Massachusetts voters approved of legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in November 2016, but nearly two years later, there is still no place to legally buy it. The state Legislature delayed implementation for six months while rewriting the law and the subsequent regulatory process dragged past the July 1 target date for retail sales.
Marijuana stores exist in six western states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Maine voters also approved a recreational marijuana question in 2016, but sales in that state are not expected before next year.
The delay in the rollout of recreational marijuana sales has frustrated would-be consumers and businesses seeking a foothold in the cannabis industry in Massachusetts.
"The Cannabis Control Commission must pick up the pace," Will Luzier, who managed the successful 2016 ballot campaign, told reporters Monday outside the Statehouse.
"Now is the time to get them open," he said of the stores.
Legalization advocates have also blamed some municipal officials for throwing up roadblocks to marijuana businesses locating within their cities or towns, or demanding too much compensation from companies in exchange for executing a host community agreement.