Despite priority status, applicants say they are stymied by municipal requirements, the state licensing process, and a lack of money. Applicants cannot get bank loans because marijuana remains federally illegal. And communities have more incentive to negotiate with well-funded and well-connected larger companies.
Williams says just getting through the licensing process can cost half a million dollars, between legal costs and the cost of leasing real estate to hold onto a site. “I know a lot of people that spent out of pocket to get to a stage where they’re not even licensed right now, and they’re literally going broke trying to pay people,” Williams said.
The Cannabis Control Commission on Thursday held a listening session for applicants at Union Station in Worcester. The commission called the session after two consecutive public meetings were interrupted by economic empowerment applicants protesting the slow pace of licensing.
“We are committed to continue listening, learning, and acting as necessary,” said commission chairman Steven Hoffman.
Asked about the pace of marijuana licensing in a December interview, Hoffman said commission staff frequently receive incomplete applications and must ask applicants for more information. The commission also has no control over how long it takes municipalities to give their approval. But Hoffman said the commission is working on hiring more licensing staff and becoming more efficient.
Hoffman said Thursday that the commission, just in the last week, hired three new licensing staff.
At the listening session, which was standing-room only, 60 budding marijuana business owners signed up to testify.
One recurring theme was money. Traditional financing options are not available to marijuana businesses because the drug remains federally illegal. Several operators said they had been approached by big companies looking to invest in their company – and take advantage of their priority economic empowerment status – in exchange for a huge ownership stake.