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Cannabis Legalization in Massachusetts: An Interview with Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission

By Aaron G. Biros
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On February 13 at the upcoming Seed To Sale Show in Boston, MA, Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission of Massachusetts, will deliver a keynote discussion. Hoffman will sit down with National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Executive Director Aaron Smith to discuss the first few months of recreational legalization, challenges and the path forward for the state. We caught up with Hoffman to hear about some of the biggest obstacles and successes when it came to standing up a regulated adult-use cannabis market.

On November 8, 2016, voters in Massachusetts ushered in a new era for the East Coast, when they passed a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis. Almost immediately after that, the Massachusetts Legislature put a hold on implementation in order to study the issues and revise the legislation, which was ultimately signed in July of 2017. That September, Steven Hoffman and his colleagues at the Cannabis Control Commission were appointed to figure out how the state should regulate the market, enforce its regulations and roll out the new adult-use program.

Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission

The Commission was tasked with creating something brand new, without a roadmap in place and developing rules around some very contentious issues. “I think the biggest obstacle was that we were doing something unprecedented,” says Hoffman. “Every state is different demographically and the laws differ state to state, and we got a lot of help from other states sharing their experiences with us, but we were still going down an uncharted path for Massachusetts.”

Hoffman told us the very first thing they needed to do in 2017 was conduct listening sessions in which the commissioners listened to citizens for recommendations and heard people’s thoughts on cannabis legalization. “We did that immediately. We needed to conduct a process that was transparent, thoughtful and inclusive,” says Hoffman. “We then, in public, debated policies around adult-use marijuana regarding licensing processes, criteria and enforcement.”

They debated policies in a public forum for four days and came back the following week to embed their decisions in draft regulations that were submitted to the Secretary of State in December 2017. Then, they had 10 more public hearings, made some modifications to the rules, and promulgated a final version of the adult-use regulations in March 2018, keeping everything as transparent and inclusive as possible. “I don’t think anyone has been critical of that process behind it,” says Hoffman.

Certain pieces of the regulations stand out as particularly inclusive and progressive for Massachusetts’ cannabis program. For example, certain mandates encourage diversity and support communities affected by the drug war. Hoffman says the Commission couldn’t take credit for those completely because their objectives are explicit in the legislation, however, the agency still made sure the state followed through. “The mandate said the industry should look like the state of Massachusetts in terms of our diversity,” says Hoffman. That includes creating a diverse industry with respect to ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, veteran and disabled participation. Additionally, he added, “it was a very explicit set of requirements that those communities who were disproportionally harmed by the drug war are full participants in the new industry we set up. Those were both legislative mandates, so we take them very seriously and I wouldn’t have taken this appointment if I didn’t think it was absolutely essential.”

You can expect to hear more from Hoffman on this and other matters related to implementing cannabis regulations at the upcoming Seed To Sale Show in Boston, MA, February 12-13, 2019. On November 20, 2018, the first adult-use dispensaries in the state opened their doors for business and began selling cannabis. Hoffman says he is most proud of their rollout of the program as well as the transparency and inclusiveness through which they conducted the process. “I think this is a very controversial issue; the voters approved this issue by 53-47%,” says Hoffman. “No matter what we do, we won’t make everyone happy, but we’ve done everything possible to allow people to participate and feel like they’ve been listened to. We made our decisions publicly and transparently.”

Beyond that, the Commission wanted to take their time to make sure things were done the right way the first time. “From day one, we decided we were going to do this right rather than meet an arbitrary timeline,” says Hoffman. “It’s gradual, it’s maybe slower than some people would like, but our rollout has been well-received and relatively smooth. I think a gradual and thoughtful process, not focused on a deadline, went very well. Hopefully we have given other states a model when they plan their own rollout.”

Hoffman wouldn’t comment on whether or not he would encourage other states down a similar path, but he did say they could probably learn a thing or two from them. “I expect other states will do what we did,” says Hoffman. “They will talk to other states ahead of them like us and hopefully will benefit from learning from our experiences. I don’t know what the laws will look like but I expect other states need to make it work for them specifically.”

You can expect to hear more from Hoffman on this and other matters related to implementing cannabis regulations at the upcoming Seed To Sale Show in Boston, MA, February 12-13, 2019. Make sure to check out his keynote discussion with Aaron Smith on Wednesday, February 13 at 10:30am.

Recount Effort Stops, Maine Cannabis Legalization Moves Forward

By Aaron G. Biros
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Update: The No on Question 1 Campaign has rescinded their recount effort, according to the Portland Press Herald. “We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,” says Newell Augur, legal counsel for No on 1 campaign. “We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate.”

On Election Day in Maine, voters were heavily divided on Question 1, a ballot initiative that would legalize recreational cannabis. Voters passed the initiative, but with a very narrow margin, according to a WGME article.

Maine Capitol building Photo: Mark Goebel, Flickr
Maine Capitol building
Photo: Mark Goebel, Flickr

Out of almost 760,000 ballots, Question 1 passed by a margin of only 4,073 votes, roughly 50.2% in favor and 49.8% against. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says State Police is responsible for collecting the physical ballots and bringing them to Augusta. Dunlap’s office is coordinating with volunteers to recount each vote by hand.

Dunlap is quoted saying there would have to be significant vote changes in every town to indicate any discrepancies in the polling. He says the state can recount up to 25,000 votes a day, but with the upcoming holidays, the recount will continue into 2017.

According to International Business Times, Gov. Paul LePage, who is a cannabis legalization opponent, has said he would delay the process of legalization even if the measure passed. He also said he would speak with president-elect Donald Trump regarding the enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition. Governor Lepage said if the Trump administration embraces states with legal cannabis then he too would honor the voters’ wish to legalize recreational cannabis.

Election Day Results for Cannabis: California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine Legalize Recreational Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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Update: With 100% reporting (589 of 589 precincts), voters in Maine passed Question 1, legalizing recreational cannabis by a very narrow margin of 50.2% to 49.8% (378,288 in favor and 375,668 against is a margin of only 2,620 votes)


Voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada passed ballot initiatives legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, creating huge new markets for the cannabis industry overnight. Voters in North Dakota, Florida, Montana and Arkansas passed ballot initiatives to legalize forms of medical cannabis. Voters by a margin of 52.2% to 47.8% rejected Arizona’s Proposition 205, which would have legalized recreational cannabis.

With 100% of the votes in for Maine’s Question 1, voters narrowly passed legalizing recreational cannabis, the polls show it won by a very slim margin, less than 3,000 votes.

newfrontier_logo_finalNew Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research released an Election Day update to their growth projections for the cannabis industry by 2020. The release projects: “The legalization of cannabis in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota will result in new markets that account for $7.1 billion in sales by 2020. We project the overall U.S. cannabis market will exceed $20.9 billion by 2020.” Those numbers include overall cannabis sales and assume the markets are all fully operational by 2018.

Giadha DeCarcer, (photo credit: CNN Money)
Giadha DeCarcer, founder and CEO of New Frontier (photo credit: Frontierfinancials.com)

According to Giadha DeCarcer, founder and chief executive officer of New Frontier, there is overwhelming support for medical cannabis and a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis as well. “The ten initiatives on the ballot reflect the accelerating public debate on legal cannabis access,” says DeCarcer. “The passage of California’s adult use measure and Florida’s medical initiative expand legal access into two of the country’s most populous states.” The market potential is notably enormous in California, it currently being the 6th largest economy in the world. “Additionally, the passage of the measure in Massachusetts opens the first adult use market in the Northeast extending the reach of legal adult use access from coast to coast,” says DeCarcer. “The passage of the measures in Arkansas and North Dakota shows that public support on this issue is not solely confined to urban, liberal markets but extends into conservative rural states as well.”

According to the release, by 2020 California could reach a total market size of $7.6B and Massachusetts could grow to $1.1B. Massachusetts being the first mover in the Northeast to legalize recreational cannabis will be watched very closely by a number of surrounding states that appeared bullish on cannabis legalization previously.

Leslie Bocskor, president and founder of Electrum Partners
Leslie Bocskor, president and founder of Electrum Partners

Leslie Bocskor, president and founder of Electrum Partners, believes the Election Day results will bring an influx of investing opportunities to the industry. “We are going to see a diverse approach from the irrationally exuberant to the sophisticated and experienced investor and entrepreneur getting involved, creating businesses and investing in the industry that will create innovation, jobs, wealth and tax revenue far beyond the consensus expectations,” says Bocksor. “The cannabis industry is more than one industry; it is an entire ecosystem, impacting so many verticals, such as agriculture, industrial chemicals from hemp, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and more. We see the funding of innovation that might have been absent without the velocity and heft that has come from this phenomenon,” adds Bocksor. As these newly legalized markets begin to launch, it will require a considerable amount of time to see the industry flesh out in each new state.

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Tom Lohdan, Flickr

Donald Trump winning the presidential election and the GOP retaining control over the House and Senate could mean a lot of uncertainties for the future of the cannabis industry on a national scale. President-elect Trump has previously flip-flopped on the issue of cannabis legalization, but has said in the past he favors leaving the issue of medical use up to the states, advocating for access to medical cannabis, while recently saying he opposes regulating cannabis for adult use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The MPP gave him a C+ grade for his views toward cannabis.

On The O’Reilly Factor in February 2016, Trump told the conservative political commentator that he supports medical cannabis while opposing the recreational use. “I’m in favor of it [access to medical cannabis] a hundred percent. But what you are talking about [recreational use], perhaps not. It’s causing a lot of problems out there [in Colorado],” says Trump. It is still unclear at this time exactly what Trump’s policy will be for the now 28 states that have some form of legal cannabis.

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Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), appeared optimistic regarding the outcomes of Election Day. “More than 16 million voters, including in two of the three most populated states in the nation, chose legal, regulated cannabis programs that promote safety, boost the economy, help sick patients and address social injustices,” says Smith. In the press release, the NCIA spelled out their priorities for congressional action on cannabis policy: Opening up bank access for state-compliant cannabis businesses, ending the effects of federal tax code Section 280E on cannabis businesses and removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act via descheduling. “Last night’s results send a simple message – the tipping point has come,” says Smith.

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Election Day is a Decisive Moment for the Cannabis Industry

By Aaron G. Biros
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In less than two weeks on November 8th, voters in five states will head to the polls to decide if they want to legalize recreational cannabis. California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine all have initiatives on the ballot that could legalize recreational cannabis for adult use. Polls in each state show a majority of voters support the initiatives.

This New York Times article suggests that November 8th could be a major turning point in the movement to legalize cannabis in the United States. Even if the initiatives fail in most of those states, California’s initiative, which is expected to pass, could be the linchpin for federal legalization. California’s giant economy, coupled with its ability to drive national policy on social issues, sets the stage for rapid industry growth.

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Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors

According to Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors, the significance of California’s measure also lies in the merging of medical and recreational regulatory schemes. His firm sees a trend where “initially bifurcated marijuana markets will merge under a shared regulatory system into substantially larger enterprises.” Karnes believes the California market will conservatively reach $2.6B in 2016 and grow to $6.7B by 2021, which represents a 5-year compound annual growth rate of roughly 21%. “Should California vote to legalize recreational use this November, we expect implementation of a combined regulated market as soon as 2018,” says Karnes. “A combined California market is significant, not only because of its sheer size (~55% of the U.S. market), but it would also mark the first state to implement regulations for a fully legal market without initial oversight of medical use purchases.”

The presidential election is equally as important for the future of the legal cannabis industry. According to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, if she is elected into office then she will “reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance.” This would have a dramatic impact on the growth of the industry, most notably by easing banking and financing restrictions. Whether she will actually follow through with her plans, if elected, to reschedule cannabis is yet to be known. Regardless, this is the first time in history that a candidate with a majority of the country’s support is introducing this concept. That represents a serious shift in mainstream attitude toward cannabis. That represents the normalization of cannabis.

Jane West, CEO of lifestyle brand Jane West and co-founder of Women Grow
Jane West, CEO of lifestyle brand Jane West and co-founder of Women Grow

Jane West, chief executive officer of the lifestyle brand Jane West and co-founder of Women Grow, believes this represents the country finally taking cannabis legalization seriously. “Given the poll results that have been publicly available, it seems likely that three or more of the initiatives will pass,” says West. “By November, about 20% of Americans will be living in states where it is legal to consume cannabis. This will accelerate the process of bringing marijuana out of the shadows, and more adults will be comfortable using this enjoyable, relatively benign substance socially and openly.” Normalizing cannabis can look like a lot of things, but mainly it takes away the counterculture stigma and puts it in a light where its regular use is not frowned upon, which could be instrumental in gaining public support.

Leah Heise, CEO of Women Grow
Leah Heise, CEO of Women Grow

Leah Heise, chief executive officer of Women Grow, agrees with West’s prediction that at least three of those states will vote to legalize recreational cannabis, citing Maine, Massachusetts and California as favorites. “Additionally, with the likelihood that more than half the states in the United States support some type of cannabis program within their boundaries, a clear message is being sent to the federal government regarding legalization on a federal level,” says Heise. “I don’t think the federal government will be able to continue to enact its cannabis policy through executive orders and funding bills. Real legislative attention will have to be given to the issue.” That legislative attention could come in the form of the CARERS Act, which would reschedule cannabis.

If you are in favor of legalizing cannabis and want to see some change within your lifetime, what can you do to help? Vote. There has never been a more important election year for legal cannabis.