Massachusetts cannabis retailers open for business!
Last update: November 20, 2018
On November 8, 2016, Bay State voters approved Question 4, the historic MPP-supported ballot initiative that ended marijuana prohibition for adults 21 and older. As a result, marijuana became legal for adults to grow and possess in Massachusetts on December 15, 2016.
The first sales began on November 20, 2018, when two licensed retail stores began selling cannabis to adults. Massachusetts is now only state on the East Coast with state-legal, adult-use marijuana sales. (Maine’s stores are not expected to open until 2019 or 2020.)
Although Question 4 won a decisive victory among voters, it soon became clear that the law would need to be defended from interference by the Massachusetts Legislature, which quickly moved to make changes to the implementation timeline and other key aspects of the law. Sparking controversy, a small group of legislators met in a special, non-transparent legislative session during the final days of 2016 to delay the opening of marijuana businesses by six months. Throughout the 2017 legislative session, MPP worked both inside and outside the statehouse to defend the will of the voters from further legislative interference.
Fortunately, thanks to thousands of supporters making calls and pressuring lawmakers, the legislature ultimately discarded a flawed proposal from the House and instead passed a compromise bill that largely respects the will of the voters. Gov. Charlie Baker signed it into law on July 28, 2017. MPP’s summary of the revised law is available here.
Retail sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older were long expected to begin in the Bay State on July 1, 2018. However, the licensing process advanced at a slower pace than expected. The regulations developed by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission were adopted in March 2018, paving the way for medical cannabis and economic empowerment applicants to begin applying for priority licenses. The first cultivation facility was approved in June and the first retailers were approved in July.
Historic victory: The 2016 Yes on 4 Campaign
Having played an important role in decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing medical marijuana through ballot initiatives — in 2008 and 2012 respectively — the Marijuana Policy Project and local allies began laying the groundwork for a 2016 legalization campaign in 2015. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), as it was called, formed a drafting committee comprised of advocates, attorneys, and experts on marijuana businesses who wrote what would eventually become known as Question 4. The end product was a sensible proposal to end the failed policy of prohibition in a way that prioritized public health, safety, and social justice.
Will Luzier, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general who also served as executive director of the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention from 2008 until April 2015, served as campaign manager. Jim Borghesani, who filled the role of communications director, previously worked in top communications positions in the offices of the Massachusetts governor and as a journalist.
With the petition language written and able leaders at the helm of the campaign, the signature drive kicked off in fall of 2015. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of hundreds of signature gatherers, CRMLA became the Yes on 4 Campaign in July 2016 when the secretary of state announced that the initiative had officially qualified for the November ballot.
Throughout 2016, the campaign focused on several core messages that reinforced why legalizing and regulating marijuana was a more sensible policy than prohibition. On St. Patrick’s Day, for example, the campaign unveiled a billboard comparing the safety of marijuana to alcohol:
The campaign also aired several TV ads that highlighted the public health and safety benefits of legalizing and regulating marijuana, including one featuring retired police lieutenant Tom Nolan.
In the lead up to Election Day, hundreds of volunteers and student activists across the state dedicated their time and energy to support the Yes on 4 Campaign. Using cutting edge tools to assist with door-to-door canvassing and voter outreach, the campaign mobilized a robust get-out-the-vote effort.
Ultimately, Question 4 prevailed on November 8 with 53.6% of the vote, winning in the vast majority of cities and towns across the state.
Timeline of marijuana policy reform in Massachusetts
2008 – Voters approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
2012 – Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana for patients suffering from serious health issues. For more information on the state’s medical marijuana program, click here.
2016 – Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated marijuana market similar to alcohol. The initiative took effect on December 15, eliminating penalties for limited possession and cultivation for adults’ use.
2017 – The Legislature voted to delay implementation by six months, pushing the advent of legal retail sales forward from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2018. Legislators then began working on changes to the initiative. The House passed a bad bill that would have made major changes to the law, but MPP and its allies fought back and persuaded the Senate to defend the will of voters. The implementation law that ultimately passed kept most of the initiative intact, and Gov. Baker signed it into law.