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What the Hell Happened to Massachusetts’ Legal Weed on July 1?

We could have seen pot shops open on July 1. Surprise, surprise: They did not.

Marijuana buds on white background with jar

photo via istock.com/Nastasic

Raise your hand if you saw this coming—if you just knew in your heart that on July 1, the day that Massachusetts’ legal marijuana marketplace was supposed to bloom to life, it would not.

Well, that’s where we are. The date that might have welcomed the state’s first real-life recreational marijuana shops has come and gone, and we’ll have to wait a little while longer until the soon-to-be-multi-billion dollar industry can finally get going.

There are some major hurdles to be cleared before the first fully legal recreational joint can be sold. The state’s Cannabis Control Commission needs to license at least one grower, at least one facility that can test and track the drug, and at least one store that can sell it to people who are not card-carrying medical marijuana patients. But so far, commissioners have only signed off on a grower: Sira Naturals, of Milford, which already cultivates cannabis for medical dispensaries.

There was some more progress today. The CCC this morning granted the first recreational retail license to a company in Leicester called Cultivate Holdings, which already operates a medical marijuana dispensary. The company has said that even if it is granted a license, it will still need a few more weeks to open its doors. It also wouldn’t be enough. Even though commissioners moved recently to expedite approval for this type of license, not one testing facility submitted a complete license application.

Meanwhile, rejection of marijuana business in many communities has raised concerns about just how available the drug will be in the coming months and years. More than 200 towns have banned or delayed approval of pot companies in their midst. A recent ruling from Attorney General Maura Healey, condemned by pot activists, will let many towns keep bans in place for another year without holding a vote.

What all this means is that implementing the will of the majority of voters in 2016, who supported a ballot measure that called for legal pot shops to open in January of this year (the state legislature voted last year to push that back by six months), has stalled under the control of lawmakers and officials who largely have opposed legalization.

Sound familiar? It should. Back in 2012, when Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana, the roll-out was so sluggish it took three years before the first dispensary opened its doors, in Salem. The first dispensary in downtown Boston didn’t open until 2016.

If you were expecting that things would be different this time, and that come the weekend before the 4th of July, you’d see lines of people waiting outside the state’s first pot shops to pick up some commemorative buds or bags of THC-laced gummy bears, you may be disappointed today. But chin up. There will inevitably be a recreational marijuana market in the state. It’s just a matter of when. It’s not like the current messy roll-out has kept people from partaking, anyway. A new study just found that 21 percent of residents in the state used marijuana in the last 30 days, which would make the rate of usage here among the highest of any state in the country, pot shops or no pot shops.