- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2018

Marijuana regulators in Massachusetts have authorized a pair of dispensaries to start recreational sales on Tuesday, making the state the seventh in the nation to permit retail pot shops in spite of the plant’s status as a federally prohibited substance.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission on Friday notified the operators of two existing medical marijuana dispensaries – Cultivate Holdings in Leicester and New England Treatment Access in Northampton — that they could begin recreational sales effective Nov. 20.

Massachusetts voted in Nov. 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana and launch a system for regulating, taxing and selling the plant, and the two dispensaries are the first approved by the state in accordance with the retail framework drafted during the interim.

“This signal to open retail marijuana establishments marks a major milestone for voters who approved legal, adult-use cannabis in our state,” CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said in a statement.

“To get here, licensees underwent thorough background checks, passed multiple inspections and had their products tested, all to ensure public health and safety as this new industry gets up and running,” he added. “As patrons look forward to visiting Massachusetts stores, we hope they will do their part by first familiarizing themselves with the law and understanding what is required of responsible consumers.”

Ten states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana, including six that have launched existing systems permitting retail dispensaries to operate: Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. Successful ballot initiatives in Maine and Michigan have placed them on path to follow suit, and Democratic lawmakers have recently announced plans to legalize retail sales in the nation’s capital as soon as 2019.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and is categorized as a Schedule 1 substance under the U.S Controlled Substances Act, placing it alongside heroin and other narcotics deemed by the government to have no known medical benefit and being prone to abuse.

President Trump previously said that he believed that states should be able to legalize marijuana in spite of federal prohibition, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have proposed bills rescheduling the plant and protecting states that permit it.

Massachusetts laws allows adults age 21 and over to possess, grow and use limited amounts of marijuana, and dispensaries licensed to conduct recreational sales can sell up to an ounce of pot, or five grams of concentrate, per transaction.

“We can rightfully squawk about state delays and problematic local opposition, but the fact remains that we’re the first state east of the Mississippi to offer legal, tested cannabis to adult consumers in safe retail settings,” said Jim Borghesani, the former spokesman for the 2016 campaign for marijuana legalization in Massachusetts.

“This is a historic distinction for Massachusetts,” he said in a statement. “Now we’re going to be at the forefront of the drive toward replacing lingering reefer-madness fears with a rational approach that benefits consumers and communities.”

Thirty-three states have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, including Massachusetts in 2012.

Massachusetts previously planned to start recreational sales in July 2018. State regulators are slated to consider granting licenses to additional dispensaries during its next meeting Tuesday.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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