Massachusetts issues first marijuana license

It’s a milestone, but retail pot probably won’t be available July 1

THE CANNABIS CONTROL COMMISSION marked a historic milestone Thursday with the approval of the first license for recreational pot in the state – the first ever granted east of the Mississippi River, in fact – to a cultivation facility in Milford.

“We’ll go back to the office and celebrate for about five minutes,” Chairman Steven Hoffman said following the meeting. “But this is not the end; it’s a beginning.”

But the sole provisional license for a grow facility indicates there will unlikely be retail marijuana for sale anywhere in the state come July 1, the first day Massachusetts residents can legally buy state-sanctioned weed. Hoffman has said in the past the July 1 date was “aspirational, not a mandate” but expressed confidence the commission would be on track to hit that mark. On Wednesday, just 10 days before the start of legal sales, he tempered his view.

Steven Hoffman, left, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, and Michael Dundas are all smiles after the board awarded Dundas’s company the state’s first-ever recreational marijuana license.

“I am not offering a forecast,” said Hoffman. “People can look at the calendar and form their own conclusions.”

In a vote that was both anti-climactic and process-oriented, the five commissioners, with Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan participating remotely, unanimously approved the license to Sira Naturals, a medical marijuana company, for a 20,000-square-foot, indoor-growing facility pending further inspections and requirements. There was no applause or outbursts from the audience or even a show of emotion by the commissioners.

“The commission has done its work,” Sira CEO Michael Dundas said after the meeting. “Now it’s our responsibility to pick up the torch and move this process forward.”

Dundas said “we intend to begin planting as soon as the final license is granted.” While he wouldn’t pinpoint a date, he said the company should have some product available by early-2019.

Sira Naturals has medical marijuana dispensaries in Cambridge, Somerville, and Needham as well as a medical marijuana facility at the same location in Milford where the recreational hothouse will be. The company has license applications pending for manufacturing, research, and transportation of marijuana.

Dundas, a Newton native who practiced law in California before returning to get into the medical marijuana industry in his home state, said he plans to submit applications for Cambridge and Somerville but hasn’t done it yet. But he said he understood the significance of the first license.

“It’s a historic moment in the history of (the legalization) movement,” he said. “In the broad scheme of the world, it’s just another event, in the history of the movement, it’s a blip on the timeline, but it is significant.”

The commission has a meeting set for next Tuesday, the final one before July 1, and it is expected to take up some more applications but not a significant number.

“We’re probably going to be seeing every week a handful of them,” Hoffman said, cautioning even that might be optimistic given the personnel available and time restraints. “I hope we get into that rhythm very quickly.”

It’s unknown how many, if any, would be retail licenses. With the likelihood that those licenses, too, will be provisional pending further action, the chance to get anything open in days is remote, at best.

Shawn Collins, the executive director of the commission, said there are 58 completed licenses from 29 entities that staff are reviewing and running background checks on the principals. Of those, 20 are applications for cultivation facilities, 18 for retail stores, and 14 for manufacturing. The remainder are testing labs, research, microbusinesses, and transportation.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Of those applicants, nearly two-thirds are from approved medical marijuana dispensaries, which could accelerate the process. Most, however, are still unlikely to be able to sell recreational marijuana by July 1 because of requirements the businesses must ensure sufficient supply for patients.

Collins said there are also 1,501 applications that had been started with 138 applicants filling out at least one packet of the four-part application.