Cumberland Farms proposal has marijuana side-effects

How ballot question could end up adding more pot licenses

CUMBERLAND FARMS is pushing a 2020 ballot question that would create a new beer and wine liquor license for food retailers, an initiative that could also have an impact on the number of marijuana stores opening up across the state.

Under the existing cannabis law, communities must allow a minimum number of marijuana retail stores. Communities can only ban marijuana stores through a municipal election.

The minimum number is set at “20 percent of the number of licenses issued within the city or town for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages not to be drunk on the premises,” rounded up to the nearest whole number. For a community with 18 liquor licenses, that would mean four marijuana stores must be allowed.

In addition to creating the new beer and wine license for food stores, the Cumberland Farms ballot question would lift the cap on the number of licenses an operator could hold. If the question survives a legal challenge from the Mass. Package Stores Association, wins at the ballot, and food stores ultimately gain approval for new beer and wine licenses, many communities could end up with more marijuana stores.

There’s lots of potential for growth. Cumberland Farms has 206 stores across Massachusetts, seven that sell beer and wine, the current state limit. 7-Eleven boasts 203 stores, five that sell beer and wine. Jeff Lenard, vice president for strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores, indicates there are 3,279 convenience stores across the state.

The new liquor licenses being pushed by Cumberland Farms would allow the chain, subject to local municipal approval, to sell beer and wine at 199 of its 206 convenience stores throughout the state that currently lack a beer and wine retail license. Because those licenses are governed by the same law (M.G.L. c.138 Section 15) that is used to calculate the minimum number of marijuana retail outlets, the Cumberland Farms proposed ballot question could increase minimum marijuana store counts in many communities.

As an example, data from the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission shows that Framingham has a total of 30 carry-out licenses — 21 liquor beverage stores, 4 convenience stores, 2 gas stations, 2 supermarkets, and one artisan shop that infuses liquor into chocolate sold in its retail outlet.

Framingham is in the process of granting local approval to six marijuana retailers. Framingham also happens to host one Cumberland Farms store. If the Cumberland Farms store is eventually allowed a beer and wine retail license, Framingham will have 31 carry-out licenses and will increase its minimum marijuana retail store count from six to seven.

Framingham isn’t alone. It appears 30 Massachusetts communities that voted yes on the marijuana ballot question have a number of carry-out licenses evenly divided by five. That means adding a single convenience store beer and wine license in those communities will increase the minimum marijuana retail count by one store as well. That assumes impacted communities will only add one such additional carry-out liquor license. In 36 communities, adding two convenience store beer and wine licenses will increase the minimum marijuana retail count by one store.

Meet the Author

David Rabinovitz

CEO/Acting treasurer, NewCann Group/Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition
Cumberland Farms is likely well aware of its question’s side effect. Since the marijuana legalization trend took hold, there have been numerous marijuana conferences and trade shows across the country. The industry’s biggest show, MJBizCon 2019, took place December 11-13 in Las Vegas. Coincidently, the National Association of Convenience Stores held a one-day pop-up conference in Las Vegas on December 10, the day before MJBizCon, on “The Future of Cannabis in Retail.

David Rabinovitz is the CEO of NewCann Group and the acting treasurer of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.