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The past 18 months or so have taught us that a lot can happen in a year, much less five. In November 2016, Massachusetts voters legalized adult-use cannabis, creating what was then the biggest legal marijuana market east of the Mississippi River. The first adult-use dispensary in Massachusetts opened two years later, bringing legal retail cannabis sales to the East Coast.Five years later, how has marijuana legalization played out for Massachusetts? 

“Cannabis legalization a success in Massachusetts”

By late 2021, it was pretty clear where most Massachusetts residents stood. According to a poll published in November 2021, 61% of respondents said recreational cannabis legalization has been positive for the state, and 37% said it’s been “very positive.” Only 13% said it has been somewhat or very negative. Mass

This may be partly due to cannabis tax revenue. A November 2021 Business West article stated that legal cannabis had brought more than $4.3 million in tax revenue to the city of Northampton. According to former Northampton mayor (and dispensary customer) David Narkewicz, “that helps us continue funding schools, police, fire, DPW, all the services we provide as a city.”

For Jim Borghesani, the spokesman of the “Yes on 4” initiative that legalized adult-use marijuana in Massachusetts, the verdict on legalization is clear.

“It’s been a success in creating new tax revenue and new jobs, and it’s been a success in giving local communities a new stream of tax money.”

Borghesani added that crime and teen cannabis use haven’t increased and that “we’ve seen none of the negative repercussions that opponents were advocating during the legalization campaign.”

More than $2 billion in legal cannabis sales in 3 years 

Legal cannabis got off to a rocky start in Massachusetts, with the first recreational marijuana dispensary only opening two years after legalization.

But over the following three years, gross marijuana sales at cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts surpassed $2 billion, according to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC). This figure included more than $1 billion just in 2021.

According to the CCC, Massachusetts now has 165 marijuana retailers and three marijuana delivery services, up from just 33 retailers in the first year of legal cannabis sales.  

Also, by late 2021, 39 marijuana delivery applicants had been pre-certified, and around two dozen marijuana couriers had received or are in the process of obtaining authorization. 

How much does cannabis cost in Massachusetts?

In 2020, the Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts had the country’s highest average prices for cannabis flower. Also, in 2020, the cannabis analysis firm BDS Analytics stated that certain vape pens could cost nearly double the price as in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Oregon. And according to a post on Buds Goods in 2020, recreational marijuana in Massachusetts can cost $8 more per gram than in Colorado.

But Massachusetts marijuana prices are dropping as more cannabis is grown in the state, according to David Ullian and Gabriel Amatruda of the cannabis law firm and Rootwurks partner Vicente Sederberg.

The two wrote in November 2021 that the average cost of an ounce of marijuana was $362 in Massachusetts in September 2021, compared to $390 per ounce in late 2018. They added that wholesale marijuana prices had dropped to about $3,591 per pound from more than $4,000 per pound in early 2020. 

The fact that there are more than five times as many marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts as in 2018 has also played a role. 

“Consumers now have far greater access to adult-use marijuana and a wider variety of strains and available products than a few short years ago. And with 464 provisional licensees pushing towards final licensure, that impressive growth is sure to continue,” they wrote. 

Cannabis jobs in Massachusetts 

A 2019 Glassdoor report found that Boston was one of the top 10 cities for marijuana job postings, representing 3% percent of all postings. 

A year earlier, Weedmaps predicted that legal marijuana in Massachusetts would eventually provide nearly 20,000 full-time jobs. By September 2021, the CCC reported that non-medical cannabis employs 15,896 people in the state, up from only 5,846 in 2019.  

In addition, the CCC's total budget increased from $7,000,000 in 2018 to more than $15,000,000 in 2022. 

Diversity in cannabis in Massachusetts 

But diversity remains an area where the cannabis industry still has room for improvement - in Massachusetts and across the country.

CCC figures from August 2021 show that 73% of the registered cannabis workers in Massachusetts are white, and 64% are male. The CCC added that 7.6% identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish, and 6% as Black or African American. This is lower than United States census estimates from 2019, which listed the percentage of "Black or African American alone” in Massachusetts as 9%, and Hispanic or Latino as 12.4%.

One way states like Massachusetts have tried to solve these disparities is through social equity programs. 

Like in other states, the program prioritizes cannabis license applications from people who come from “areas of disproportionate impact.” These are areas where the criminal justice system and the drug war caused the most harm. Successful applicants can also receive training, compliance, best practices, and business development assistance.

In September, the CCC said that it had received 502 applications for the social equity program. In late 2020, MJBizDaily praised Massachusetts for giving social equity applicants exclusive access to marijuana delivery licenses. MJBizDaily said the move “could serve as a model for other programs aiming to make their cannabis industries more racially and economically diverse.”

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Ben Hartman, Content Manager

Ben Hartman is a cannabis writing and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism and digital content creation. Ben was formerly the senior writer and research and analysis lead for The Cannigma.

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