BOSTON — Prospects for retail pot shops opening for business in Massachusetts by a July 1 target date appear to be dimming.
The state’s Cannabis Control Commission met Thursday without issuing the first commercial business licenses under the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law. Steven Hoffman, the commission chairman, told reporters that regulators hope to begin issuing licenses ‘‘shortly,’’ but added he couldn’t offer a specific date. Hoffman described the July 1 date for retail sales given in the law as an ‘‘arbitrary deadline’’ and not a mandate. He also said regulators are still awaiting background checks and other information on the more than two dozen entities that have applied for retail or other types of marijuana business licenses.
Hoffman also said he would be OK with having no retail shops open for a few weeks after the July 1 target date if it means avoiding a problematic rollout.
‘‘We are going to do this right,’’ he said. “If that means we have few or no stores on July 1 and it takes a few more weeks, I hope and expect that everybody in the state believes that’s the right thing to do. We certainly believe that’s the right thing to do.”
Hoffman said he expects the commission will begin taking up license applications “soon.” When asked if July 1 could still be the first day of legal marijuana sales in Massachusetts, he said, “It could be.”
Already, 28 entities have applied for 53 business licenses and the CCC has begun to review those applications. The review process includes a background check and a 60-day window during which the municipality in which the business hopes to locate must certify that the applicant has met all local requirements.
The chairman said he does not want the commission to rush through its review of applications to approve them ahead of July 1 in hopes of avoiding problems that have cropped up in other states as they have launched their own legal pot industries.
“Other states that rushed to hit an arbitrary deadline ended up with no inventory in some cases, ended up with no licenses in place, no background checks being done, no online inventory being done. We are not going to do that,” Hoffman said.
Executive director Shawn Collins said Thursday that the pending pile includes 18 applications to cultivate marijuana, 17 applications for retail licenses, 12 applications to produce marijuana-infused products, three research laboratory applications, two applications from microbusinesses, and one application to transport marijuana. He said the applications have come in from 36 registered marijuana dispensary companies, four applicants who are part of the CCC’s economic empowerment program and 13 applicants that did not receive priority review status from the commission.
”That’s kind of the universe we’re managing with applications and we are reviewing them all substantively or reviewing for completeness at some stage,” Collins said.
Instead of considering license applications at its meeting Thursday, the commission instead discussed the metrics it will publicly report as a way to assess the commission’s performance, guidance the panel will issue to businesses to clear up questions around some of the commission’s regulations, and its agenda for researching the public health, public safety, and societal effects of marijuana legalization.
The panel’s next meeting is Tuesday, and officials could consider license applications at that time. An agenda for that meeting will be available at least 48 hours beforehand.