3 KEY STEPS Before Submitting an Application for a Massachusetts Cannabis License

Saskia Vann JamesEntrepreneurs, KNOW THE LAW, Municipalities/Towns, News & Events

Understanding Local Control

Navigating the rules and regulations of the Massachusetts adult-use marijuana program can be a daunting task for municipalities and aspiring business owners. MRCC can guide you through the process. The CCC released a GUIDANCE DOCUMENT to ensure proper compliance and implementation of regulated adult-use marijuana establishments in municipalities. Below, we break down this document's key information.

Licensing Process for Municipalities

A municipality may implement its own licensing process, as long as it does not conflict with state laws and regulations governing marijuana establishments. Applicants will be required to demonstrate that they have:

  1. Held a Community Outreach Meeting within the past six months.
  2. Executed a Host Community Agreement with the municipality.
  3. Proposed a location that is compliant with Zoning Bylaws or Ordinances at the time of the application.
1. Community Outreach Meeting the applicant will need to submit documentation of the hearing, including:
  • Notice: the hearing must be advertised at least seven calendar days prior to the hearing, a copy of the hearing notice must be filed with the town or city clerk, the planning board, the contracting authority for the municipality, and local licensing authority for adult use of marijuana (if applicable); and a copy of the hearing mailed to abutters;
  • Information Discussed: information presented at the community outreach hearing, which must include the type(s) of Marijuana Establishment to be located at the proposed address; information adequate to demonstrate that the location will be maintained securely; steps to be taken by the Marijuana Establishment to prevent diversion to minors; a plan by the Marijuana Establishment to positively impact the community; information adequate to demonstrate that the location will not constitute a nuisance to the community by noise, odor, dust, glare, fumes, vibration, heat, glare, or other conditions likely to cause nuisance.
  • Q & A: community members must be permitted to ask questions and receive answers from representatives of the Marijuana Establishment.
2. Host Community Agreement: Documentation in the form of a single-page certification signed by the contracting authorities for the municipality and the applicant evidencing that the applicant for licensure and host municipality have executed a host community agreement.
  • Under state law, marijuana establishments and medical marijuana treatment centers are required to execute “host community agreements” with the municipalities in which they operate. The agreement must stipulate the responsibilities of the community and the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment centers. The agreement may include a community impact fee of up to 3% of gross sales to be paid to the host community, as long as the fee is reasonably related to real costs imposed on the municipality due to the establishment or medical marijuana treatment center operating there. The agreement may not be effective for longer than five years. Please note that any cost to a city or town imposed by the operation of a marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center must be documented and considered a public record under Massachusetts public records laws, G.L. c.4 §7 cl. 26 and G.L. c.66 §10.

3. Zoning Bylaw/Ordinance Compliance: Documentation that the proposed site is compliant with bylaws/ordinances in effect at the time of the application, including a certification from the municipality that it is in compliance, including with the buffer zone requirement.
  • Municipal Control: Bylaws and Ordinances The law allows, but does not require, municipalities to pass bylaws and ordinances governing the “time, place, and manner” of marijuana establishments (cultivators, retailers, manufacturers, testing labs, and any other licensed marijuana-related businesses) as well as businesses dealing with marijuana accessories. Such bylaws and ordinances may not be “unreasonably impracticable.” This means local laws cannot be so difficult to comply with that they would subject licensees to unreasonable risk, or require such a high investment of risk, money, time or any other resource or asset, that a reasonably prudent businessperson would not operate a marijuana establishment. Alternatively, a municipality may determine if a proposed marijuana-related use falls under an existing use authorized by its bylaws or ordinances.

    • Cannot Prohibit Conversion from Medical to Adult: Zoning bylaws or ordinances are not permitted to operate to prevent the conversion of a medical marijuana treatment center (also known as a registered marijuana dispensary or RMD) licensed or registered not later than July 1, 2017 that is engaged in the cultivation, manufacture or sale of marijuana or marijuana products to a marijuana establishment for adult use engaged in the same type of activity. Zoning bylaws or ordinances are also not allowed to limit the number of marijuana establishments below certain limits unless specific procedures are followed (see below).
    • Number of Marijuana Establishments in a Municipality: A municipality may pass a bylaw or ordinance limiting the number of marijuana retailers to 20% or more of the number of liquor licenses. If the governing body of a municipality seeks to ban marijuana retailers from operating in the municipality, limit the number of them to fewer than 20% of the number of liquor licenses, or limit the number of any type of marijuana establishment to fewer than the number of medical marijuana treatment centers, there are two different procedures for proceeding, which depend on how the municipality voted on the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in 2016. A list of each municipality voted can be reviewed here.
      • IF A MUNICIPALITY VOTED NO on the initiative, then the governing body may limit or ban the number of marijuana establishment through by passing a bylaw or ordinance prior to December 31, 2019.
      • IF A MUNICIPALITY VOTED YES on the initiative, then the question must be posed to the people of the municipality at a regular or special election following a specific process and wording.
    • Buffer Zone: Under state law, a marijuana establishment may not be located within 500 feet of a pre-existing public or private school providing education in kindergarten or any of grades 1 through 12. Municipalities may adopt an ordinance or bylaw to reduce that distance requirement.
    • Signage: A municipality may regulate, by bylaw or ordinance, signage regarding marijuana-related uses, but the ordinance or bylaw may not impose a standard more restrictive than those applied to retail establishments selling alcoholic beverages within the municipality.
    • Transportation: Municipalities are prohibited from barring the transportation of marijuana or marijuana products or adopting an ordinance or by-law that makes the transportation of marijuana or marijuana products unreasonably impracticable.
    Summarized Licensing Process:
    1. Application submitted.
    2. Commission determines application is complete.
    3. Municipality notified of completed application.
    4. Municipality has sixty (60) days from receipt of the application to notify the Commission that the applicant is not in compliance with local ordinances or by-laws.
    5. If no communication is received, the applicant will be deemed to be compliant with all applicable local ordinances and by-laws.
    6. Applicant receives provisional license.
    7. Final license granted once it has passed all necessary inspections.

    Local Tax

    A municipality that accepts the local sales tax option may collect a 3% tax on sales of marijuana by a marijuana retailer to a consumer. The tax will be collected with other sales tax and distributed to municipalities at least four times per year.

    GET ACTIVE: Become a Consumer Advocate

    We urge as many local residents as possible to show up to their town hall meetings to participate in the regulatory and decision-making process for local marijuana regulations. If your town needs information or guidance regarding the adult-use marijuana program, or you're interested in getting involved in marijuana policy on the local level, contact Joe@massreccouncil.com

    Did you find this information useful? What would you like to know more about? Comment below and become a member to receive information like this, exclusive content, and opportunities. The Massachusetts cannabis industry is quickly expanding, we can keep you updated!