How to Open a Dispensary in Massachusetts

How to Open a Dispensary in Massachusetts

Are you thinking about opening a recreational dispensary in Massachusetts? Congratulations!

In 2016, The Bay State was the first market on the East Coast to legalize recreational cannabis, and while it was slow to get started, the market is now booming. In September of 2023, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission announced that gross sales surpassed $5 billion.

It’s a great time to enter the MA cannabis industry.

This guide is designed to help prospective cannabis entrepreneurs understand the specifics of opening a dispensary, including key details like licensing, financing, real estate, security, staffing, compliance, inventory, tech stack, and more.

Scroll through for a step-by-step process to get your dispensary businesses open in Massachusetts, or use the links on the left to jump to what you need.

Before you start, take a moment to review Massachusetts cannabis laws. It’s imperative that current and prospective dispensary business owners know and understand the rules.

Learn more about MA cannabis

Guide to Massachusetts Cannabis Laws

Disclaimer: Always consult your lawyer, accountant, realtor, or other trusted consultants to help you navigate the complexities of opening a cannabis dispensary. The information provided herein is designed to illustrate and educate, but is not to be construed as legal or financial advice.

Plan your Massachusetts cannabis business

The first step of your dispensary ownership plan is to get your business affairs in order. This is where you understand your state’s cannabis laws, create your formal business entity, and prepare to submit your application.

The first thing to know is your regulatory body. The Cannabis Control Commission (also referred to as “Commission” or “CCC”) regulates licensees that operate in the legal adult- and medical-use marijuana markets in Massachusetts. This includes reviewing applications and issuing licenses for adult-use Marijuana Establishments (MEs) and Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MTCs), formerly known as Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMDs).

Here are the key elements of the dispensary planning stage:

Form a business entity

If you don’t yet have a business formed, do that first. Work with an accountant and/or lawyer to ensure everything is correct, but at a minimum, you will need to decide on and create your business structure with the state of Massachusetts.

To become a registered business in MA, dispensaries must:

  • Prove that your proposed business license is registered to do business in the Commonwealth as a domestic business entity
  • Submit your business name, MA Business Identification Number, Articles of Organization, Bylaws (or operating agreement), and Doing-business-as (DBA) names, and a Certificate of Good Standing

As you're starting out, take the time to get these in order and filed appropriately.

Next, you will:

  • Get tax ID numbers for the business
  • Open a business bank account at a cannabis-friendly bank or credit union
  • Look into business insurance

Write a business plan

Cannabis is a complicated industry, full of compliance and legal challenges. Having a rock-solid business plan can help you be prepared for whatever comes your way.

It may be tempting to skip this step, but you will need to submit your business plan as part of the application process. You will explicitly need to outline how your business will have a positive impact on the community and promote diversity in the industry.

Here are the specific details of your Massachusetts dispensary business plan. You will need to submit:

  • Compliance plans: Your plan for being compliant with local codes, ordinances, and bylaws for its physical address, including documentation of all steps taken with municipal departments and officials, such as zoning district of the proposed address and identification of required permits and timing and frequency of obtaining and renewing those permits.

  • Operating plans, policies, and procedures: These will describe how you will operate your dispensary to be safe and compliant.

  • Diversity plans: Your plan must detail your intentions to promote equity among people of color, particularly Black, African American, Hispanic, Latinx, and Indigenous people; women, veterans, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people. The plan shall outline the goals, programs, and measurements you’ll pursue once provisionally licensed. All goals should be measurable and quantifiable. Here’s an example: The applicant plans to have a staff comprised of 60% women, 50% people of color, particularly Black, African American, Hispanic, Latinx, and Indigenous people, 25% veterans, 10% persons with disabilities, and 10% LGBTQ+ people.

  • Plan to Positively Impact Disproportionately Harmed People: This is separate from your diversity plan. It outlines the goals, programs, and measurements you’ll pursue once provisionally licensed. All goals should be measurable and quantifiable. Upon renewal, you’ll be required to report detailed, demonstrative, and quantifiable proof of the establishment's efforts, progress, and success of its approved plan. This plan is designed to positively impact the following groups of disproportionately harmed people, as designated by the Commission:
    • Past or present residents of the geographic “areas of disproportionate impact,” which have been defined by the Commission. Some disproportionately impacted geographic locations are cities or towns, and others are neighborhoods identified by census tracts. The designation of these areas will be re-evaluated periodically.

    • Commission-designated Economic Empowerment Priority applicants;

    • Commission-designated Social Equity Program participants;

    • Massachusetts residents who have past drug convictions; and

    • Massachusetts residents with parents or spouses who have drug convictions.

In addition to the above, your business plan should also include:

  • Official business name, DBA, and branding name of products

  • Company overview

  • Proposed timeline for achieving operation of the dispensary, including projected dates for all activities, including renovation, hiring of staff, installing security systems, and other key milestones

  • The physical location of your dispensary (if known), including detailed diagrams, including entrances, exits, loading areas, and various operational areas.

  • Funding plan, or where your startup and ongoing capital will come from (Note: See the next section about funding for important details on disclosing your funding sources!)

  • Sourcing plan for procuring your cannabis products

  • Revenue and cost projections

  • Staffing plan, or who you’ll hire for what roles, and your dispensary org chart. This includes background checks and authorization forms for all applicants of intent

  • Diversity and equity plans

  • Plan for obtaining liability insurance that satisfies the regulatory requirements. (You must have general liability and product liability insurance coverage of no less than $1 million per occurrence and $2 million in aggregate annually. The deductible for each policy can be no higher than $5,000 per occurrence.)

  • Environmental and/or community impact plan, or how you’ll minimize risk for those around you

  • Marketing plan

  • Safety and security plan

  • Technology plan, including which cannabis point-of-sale and compliance software you’ll use to manage your dispensary

  • Any other relevant information you want to document

Find a location

The physical location of your dispensary needs to be in a visible location, with ample parking, and enough space.

Every state has specific regulations about where dispensaries can be located. In Massachusetts, your dispensary:

  • Must not be located within 500 feet of the nearest school entrance (unless the local city or town has a rule that shortens this distance requirement)
  • It also needs to be located in a municipality that accepts cannabis businesses. Municipalities in Massachusetts have the authority to establish some of their own regulations, so you’ll need to be sure you know all applicable laws. Find your municipality zoning here

You will need to have a location chosen in order to receive a dispensary license in Massachusetts. You also will need the municipality’s approval. The property doesn’t need to be fully built out at the time of application; you may submit an architectural review plan after receiving a provisional license. If approved, you can then build out the facility.

Find a local real estate professional who specializes in cannabis real estate to help in your search. Also use the public resources available to you, like city zoning and administration offices.

Tips for finding a dispensary location:

  • Focus on spaces that align with your business plan
  • Get a space that's large enough to meet your needs
  • Find an appropriate location to serve foot traffic (and/or have enough parking)
  • Consider opportunities for expansion/growth
  • Stick to your desired budget
  • Don’t just look at monthly costs, but also factor in how much it’ll take to renovate or retrofit the space for your business needs
  • Look at local competition (both existing and planned)

Secure funding

Now that you have a plan for your cannabis business, you can start to build a more clear budget for your new dispensary.

Your business expenses will generally fit into these categories:

  • Real estate and build-out - consider both initial costs and ongoing rent or mortgage expenses. You’ll probably also have initial renovation expenses.

  • Licensing/application fees - the cost of getting your license in the state of Massachusetts. Also factor in the cost of annual license renewals.

  • Operational costs - the day-to-day expenses including utilities, business or professional fees, marketing, etc.

  • Hardware, software, security, and other tech - many of these are monthly or annual subscriptions.

  • Staffing costs - the cost of hiring employees, including salaries, benefits, taxes, etc.

  • Inventory costs - or the actual expense of sourcing and purchasing your cannabis products.

  • Taxes - cannabis businesses are heavily taxed and can’t participate in normal business write-offs like 280E, so plan ahead for your quarterly tax payments.

Where will all that money come from? As a cannabis business owner, you have a few options for funding:

  • Self-funding - the easiest option is to already have capital from savings or other legal means.

  • Friends and family - another easy way to meet dispensary capital requirements is through loans or investment from family and/or friends.

  • Partners - many cannabis businesses are partnerships, where each partner contributes something meaningful. If you have the dream, vision, and want to be the active owner, consider finding a financial partner to help with the costs. Just know that no person or entity having direct or indirect control shall be granted, or hold, more than three licenses in a particular class.

  • Loans - depending on your personal financial situation, you may be eligible for a personal loan for the upfront costs of opening a dispensary. You may also be able to secure a dispensary business loan, but be honest with your lender in how the funds will be used; not all financial institutions will work with cannabis businesses.

  • State programs - the Commission set up the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund to “award grants and loans to cannabis entrepreneurs, focused on those harmed by prohibition,” though it’s been reported that the fund remains empty.

  • Private funds - whether it’s private equity, angel investors, or venture capital, you may have to look to outside investors to fund your cannabis business. This option will decrease your ownership stake in your company.

  • Crowdfunding - another less-popular option is to look to the general population to support your business venture.

  • Brokers - cannabis-specific brokerage companies can help you find funding for startup expenses, equipment, and more. FundCanna is one option that serves Massachusetts dispensary businesses.

  • Social equity programs - State-specific programs such as the grant from Revolution Clinics, and the Boston Cannabis Equity Program help social equity applicants enter the MA cannabis industry.

One important note for Massachusetts dispensaries is you have to disclose your funding, including the amounts and sources of all capital resources — for the purpose of establishing or operating the dispensary — from any individual or entity. “Forms of capital” could include loans (monetary, real, or personal property) for repayment or for equity stakes. You’ll need to disclose the name, address, contact information, amount, and source of the capital, plus documentation verifying the existence of the capital and outlining payback terms (if applicable).

Finally, you’ll have to certify that the funds used to invest in or finance your dispensary were lawfully earned or obtained (you can demonstrate this with an affidavit or notarized document attesting to this requirement).

Note: Adult-use cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts do not have capital resources requirements. However, if you plan to open a medical treatment center (MTC), you must demonstrate capital resources of $500,000 on your first application, and an additional $400,000 for the second or third applications.

What does it cost to open a dispensary in Massachusetts?

Most sources suggest having between $250,000 – $1 million to open a dispensary in Massachusetts. But that’s not all that helpful. Here’s a closer formula for you to fill in as you know your estimated expenses, but we’ll get you started with some rough estimates (based on a single recreational dispensary).

Note: This estimate is for a standard business. Micro businesses or social equity applicants have significantly reduced fees.

Application and licensing fees in Massachusetts = $11,500

  • Application fee = $1,500
    • The one-time, non-refundable application fee is due upon submission of application.

  • License fee = $10,000
    • This fee is due up approval of provisional license.

  • Annual renewal fee for dispensaries = $10,000

Note: MTC applications fees are $3,500 and license fee (and renewal) is $50,000.

Real estate fees = $125,000

  • Includes annual rent or mortgage premiums, plus upfront design costs

  • Could be higher in more expensive cities, like Boston, or for larger remodels.

  • Plan for high costs up-front, but will stabilize over time.

Employee salaries = $300,000

Your store size and operating procedures will determine your staffing needs, but plan for around six employees to start, including a manager, several budtenders, and an inventory specialist. This figure includes an average of $20/hour, plus overtime, benefits, etc.

Professional fees and services = $50,000

This may decrease in future years, but to start, expect to pay for legal, financial, insurance, and other professional consulting fees to get your business started.

Security, hardware, and software = $50,000

This covers all network, security, hardware, and software for your business, including computers, TVs, printers, scanners, internet, and other software like POS, ecommerce, payments, etc.

After your initial investment, plan for at least $2,000 per month in recurring software expenses.

Marketing expenses = $100,000

Perhaps the most variable of your costs when opening a cannabis business, this factors in one full-time marketing staff person (or agency costs per year), plus costs for your website, ads, printing, etc. to promote the dispensary.

Cannabis products = $1,500 per pound

Your cost of products for opening day (plus ongoing stocking) will vary greatly based on your store size, number of SKUs, stock on hand, and supplier rates, but plan for an average of $1,500 per pound of cannabis products, including flower, edibles, vape cartridges, tinctures, topicals, lotions, capsules, beverages, prerolls, etc.

Bond or escrow = $5,000

Unique to Massachusetts, you’re required to set aside an amount of money sufficient to cover the dismantling of your business, including satisfying outstanding state or municipal tax obligations, costs incurred securing the facility, and cost incurred destroying inventory. You can use a bond or escrow account to hold these funds. If you choose a bond, you need to set aside the total amount of your licensing fees (even if they have been waived). If you choose an escrow account, you must set aside at least $5,000, but it’s encouraged to set aside the total amount of licensing fees (even if they’ve been waived).

GRAND TOTAL = $641,500 (not including cannabis product inventory)

*Disclaimer: This is a rough estimate of the upfront and first-year costs of opening a dispensary in Massachusetts. It is to be used for informational and illustrative purposes only as every market, location, and business will have unique startup costs.

Apply for a Massachusetts recreational dispensary license

MA's adult-use licensing process has been available for a few years, and the CCC website is pretty easy to navigate. On the “Applicants and Licensees” page, you can read all about fees, the process, equity programs, and more. Tip: Click into the “Adult-Use Applicants” page for information tailored to the application process.

The state published a Guidance on Licensure to walk applicants through the entire process. Take advantage of this resource.

The basics of applying for a dispensary license in MA

  • To open a dispensary in Massachusetts you need a dispensary license. There is no stated limit to the number of dispensary licenses available, but the Commission can stop granting licenses at any time.

  • You will need to submit an application, detailed operational plan, business plan, and detailed diversity plan.

  • There’s a two-step process for applications: Provisional and full licensure.

  • If you’re planning to operate a small operation, you may be eligible for a microbusiness license, which limits the amount of cannabis a business can grow or possess.

  • Social equity opportunities also exist for people who have lived in a Disproportionate Impact Zone, based primarily on arrest rates. The Commission designated 30 cities as areas of disproportionate impact.

How to apply for a dispensary license in Massachusetts

Getting a dispensary license in Massachusetts is a multi-step process.

Step 1: Register and create an account via the Massachusetts Cannabis Industry Portal (MassCIP). Tip: Watch tutorials on using MassCIP here.

Step 2: Compile your application materials, including your operational plan, business plan, and diversity plan. Tip: The Appendix of the Guidance for Licensure from the Commission includes a checklist to make sure you have all your documents in order.

Step 3: When you’re ready to start with your application, you’ll submit the one-time, nonrefundable license application fee of $1,500, plus the following information:

    • Application of Intent - This is the bulk of your application and includes all the documents, plans, and business details mentioned above. You must provide:
      • In-state and out-of-state interests (which means whether any individuals or entities associated with your business are also associated with other dispensary businesses in any state)

      • Amounts and sources of capital resources

      • Bond or escrow account information related to dismantling or winding down operations

      • Property identification and interest documentation, which is the location of the proposed dispensary, plus proof of the property interest

      • Host Community Agreement Certification (Tip: This one-page certification form is available on the Commission’s website)

      • Community outreach meeting attestation and documentation. Dispensaries are required to host a public meeting to answer neighbors’ questions about your proposed business. Several specific documents are required to satisfy this item.

      • Plan to remain compliant with local ordinances, including zoning and permits

      • Plan to positively impact disproportionately harmed people

      • Persons or Entities Having Direct or Indirect Control, which means people or entities that satisfies one or more of these criteria:
        • An owner that possesses a financial interest in the form of equity of 10% or greater in a ME or MTC

        • A person or entity that possess a voting interest of 10% or greater in a ME or MTC or a right to veto significant events

        • A Close Associate

        • A person or entity that has rights to control, through contract or otherwise, or authority, including but not limited to:
          • to make decisions regarding operations and strategic planning, capital allocations, acquisitions, and divestments

          • to appoint more than 50% of the directors

          • to appoint or remove corporate-level officers

          • to make major marketing, production, and financial decisions

          • to execute significant (combined $10,000 or more) or exclusive contracts

          • to earn 10% or more of the profits or collect more than 10% of the dividends

        • A Court Appointee

        • A Third-Party Technology Platform Provider that possesses a financial interest in a Delivery licensee

    • Background Check - Every individual and entity listed on the application must undergo a background check. The background check includes state and national criminal database records, state and national civil database records (including professional and occupational), the individual and entity’s involvement in other marijuana-related businesses, and any actions taken against any license or registration held by the individual or entity.
      • Note: You’ll need to submit all forms and authorizations now, but the actual background check won’t be ordered until your application is deemed complete.

    • Management and Operations Profile - This covers your business information and how you plan to run your operation, including:

      • Legal name, articles of organization/bylaws/DBAs.

      • Certificates of good standing

      • A proposed timeline for achieving operation if awarded a license

      • Your plan to obtain liability insurance

      • Detailed business plan

      • Detailed plan of operating procedures and policies, including:
        • Security

        • Prevention of diversion

        • Storage of marijuana

        • Transportation of marijuana

        • Inventory procedures

        • Procedures for quality control and testing of product for potential contaminants

        • Personnel policies

        • Dispensing procedures

        • Recordkeeping procedures

        • Maintenance of financial records

        • Intended trainings for agents

        • Energy compliance plan

        • Restricting access to individuals 21 or older

      • Diversity plan

      • Plan for obtaining marijuana from licensed MEs

    Step 4: Once your license application is fully submitted, it’ll enter a queue to be reviewed based on the data and time submitted and whether the application is a priority, expedited, or general application. Priority is given to social equity or Economic Empowerment applicants.

    Step 5: The Commission will review your materials. If any part of the application doesn’t comply, you’ll receive a notification requesting further information, commonly referred to as an RFI (Request for Information). The RFI will contain information on any deficiency with a brief narrative. Applicants will need to remedy the deficiency or non-compliant issues in a timely manner, without making any additional changes to the application.

    Step 6: Once all issues are resolved, and all necessary documentation uploaded, you’ll resubmit the application or relevant section. The Commission will then review in a timely manner. You’ll then either get additional RFI’s or you'll be notified that your application is complete.

    Step 7: Background checks will then be paid for by the applicant and run. Finally, the Commission will consider the application for a provisional license within 90 days.

      Note: Getting a medical cannabis license in Massachusetts is a separate process, and may or may not have similar steps to the above.

      The licensing process in Massachusetts

      Here’s what happens once the Commission approves you for a provisional license:

      • You are now considered provisionally approved

      • Submit the required license fee payment within 90 days ($10,000 for retailers)

      • Request an architectural review (if applicable)

      • Submit applications for all current executives, directors, board members, managers, employees, and volunteers as registered agents

      • Submit a request for a Post-Provisional License Inspection when these requirements have been fulfilled:
        • All construction and renovations have been completed

        • All local permits, certificates of occupancy, local licenses, and approvals have been obtained

        • All current executives, directors, board members, managers, employees, and volunteers have been registered as agents

        • All conditions of the provisional license have been complied with and ready for review by Commission staff

        • Full compliance exists as to security, storage, transportation, and all other operating procedures, as applicable.

      • Commission staff will complete the inspection. Applicants work with the Commission inspector to address any issues.

      Note: If you miss any deadlines, you’ll need to submit a new application and go through the process of approval again.

      Once everything is compliant following the inspection, you’ll be recommended to the Commission for a final license. Upon approval, you’ll receive a notice with the approval. But you’re not quite ready to open yet. Next steps include:

      • Completing Metrc training for key staff

      • Entering beginning inventory in Metrc

      • Tagging all plants

      • Labeling and packaging all finished marijuana products (compliantly)

      • Submitting applications for all employees as registered agents on an ongoing basis

      • Registering for Marijuana Retail Tax with the Department of Revenue

      • Submitting a request for a Post-Final License Inspection.

      After a successful Post-Final License Inspection, you’ll be recommended to the Commission to commence operations. Once approved, you’ll get notice. You’ll then need to provide written notice to the Commission three full calendar days prior to the date operations will commence.

      Massachusetts social equity program for cannabis businesses

      Massachusetts has prioritized social equity in its regulations. Social equity program (SEP) applicants start the process within the MassICP portal.

      SEP participants get access to training and technical assistance, access a pre-certification application, access to exclusive pro-bono/discounted services to assist with the application and business creation process, and priority/expedited licensing review.

      SEP applicants also get waived application fees (though you do have to cover the cost of background checks), waived Metrc program fees, exclusive access to delivery licenses, 50% off annual renewal fees, and when available, exclusive access to consumption lounge licenses.

      Apply today

      Find out if you qualify for Flowhub's Social Equity Program

      To be eligible for the program, you must reside in an Area of Disproportionate Impact (ADI) for five of the past 10 years and your income may not exceed 400% of the Area Media Income (AMI) of your municipality of residence, based on ADIs.

      Note: Delivery Endorsements are currently restricted to microbusinesses and social equity program participants. Learn more about the specifics of delivery for Massachusetts dispensaries.

      Design your Massachusetts dispensary

      Dispensary design isn’t just about where your dispensary is, or what it looks like. It’s how your shoppers experience your brand.

      Dispensary store layout
      Pictured above: The bank model – a common dispensary layout

      Here’s a short list of your considerations in store design and layout:

      • How customers will move throughout the store

      • Whether they will pay at a terminal, handheld device, or kiosk

      • Whether there’s different pathways for in-store vs. online orders

      • How your products will be display/showcased

      • Your brand elements and design

      • Use of entry or waiting room space

      • Security concerns of doorways

      • Where secure inventory is stored (both on the floor, if applicable, and in a vault)

      • Where staff will stand and work

      • Breakroom or safe staff area

      • Bathrooms

      🤔🏬 Take the Store Layouts Quiz to find the perfect layout for your dispensary.

      Create a safe and secure Massachusetts dispensary

      Mass state regulations have strict security requirements for licensed dispensaries. You must ensure the safe storage and dispensing of cannabis, while preventing unauthorized access. The comprehensive measures include your physical building, alarm systems, video surveillance, zone division, and access control.

      Here are the basics of the security requirements set out by the Commission:

      • Security measures: These must be in place to deter theft of marijuana and related products, prevent unauthorized access, and ensure the safety of employees, consumers, and the public.

      • Restricted access areas: Your security measures must include positively identifying individuals to restrict access to those aged 21 and older, preventing loitering, and allowing only authorized activities on the premises.

      • Wasting practices: Excess marijuana must be disposed of as per regulations.

      • Secure entrances: All entrances are secured to prevent unauthorized entry.

      • Cannabis storage: Finished marijuana products are securely stored in locked safes or vaults.

      • Locked equipment: Equipment and areas used for marijuana production, cultivation, and processing are securely locked, except when accessing marijuana.

      • Proper equipment: All security equipment must be in good working order, and keys should not be left accessible to unauthorized individuals.

      • Lighting: Adequate exterior lighting is provided for surveillance purposes.

      • Non-visible products: Marijuana products must not be visible from public areas without special aids.

      • Emergency procedures: These must be in place for securing products after incidents like theft, loss, or diversion.

      • Safe cash handling and transportation: These procedures are established for businesses conducting cash transactions.

      • Floor plans: This includes information about hazardous materials and is shared with law enforcement as required by local authorities.

      • Security plans: These plans and procedures are shared with law enforcement and updated when modified, especially for direct delivery to consumers for retailers or establishments with delivery endorsements.

      Marijuana Establishments within buildings or enclosed areas must have a robust security system to prevent theft, diversion, and unauthorized access. This system should include:

      • Perimeter alarms on all entry and exit points and perimeter windows.

      • A failure notification system that alerts designated employees within five minutes of a security system failure.

      • A duress, panic, or holdup alarm connected to local law enforcement.

      • Video cameras in areas with marijuana, safes, entry/exit points, and parking lots. These cameras should capture clear identification of individuals.

      • Continuous 24-hour video recording available for viewing by the Commission for at least the preceding 90 days.

      • The ability to produce clear color images, both live and recorded.

      • Embedded date and time stamps on all recordings.

      • Operational capacity during power outages for at least four hours, with contingency plans for longer outages.

      • Exportable video still images in standard formats, ensuring authentication and no alteration.

      • Security equipment and recordings must be kept secure to prevent theft, loss, destruction, or alterations.

      • A backup alarm system with the same capabilities as the primary system is required, provided by a different company or alternative safeguards approved by the Commission.

      • Access to surveillance areas is restricted to essential personnel, law enforcement, security service personnel, and the Commission.

      • A current list of authorized personnel with surveillance room access must be available to the Commission, and the surveillance room, if on-site, must remain locked and dedicated solely to surveillance.

      • Regular inspections and testing, not exceeding 30-day intervals, are required to ensure all security equipment is in working order.

      • Surrounding vegetation must be maintained to prevent individuals from hiding from view outside the Marijuana Establishment.

      Learn the basics of dispensary security

      Read the Dispensary Security Guide to find out where most dispensaries are at risk, then take action with best practices for both physical security and cybersecurity.

      Hire and retain qualified dispensary employees

      Now that you’re getting closer to opening day, it’s time to hire and train your dispensary employees. This team is vital to the success of your dispensary.

      First, create your dispensary org chart. Based on your business plan, location, store design, and vision, what role are you going to play in the day-to-day operations and what additional staff do you need? What is the hierarchy? What benefits will you offer? And do you have the funds to pay your staff appropriately?

      As a starting point, you’ll need someone to manage your store, budtenders or cannabis sales associates to serve customers and fulfill orders, someone to greet your shoppers (and secure the entryway), security, and someone to manage inventory and/or compliance. Based on the size and complexity of your business, you might need more or fewer people on your team.

      Be sure to understand Massachusetts laws around hiring and staffing and follow all requirements, both specific to cannabis brands, and general hiring/staffing rules. These could include procuring cannabis employment IDs, processing fingerprints and background checks, age requirements, and mandating attendance of certification training, payroll taxes, at-will parameters, and more.

      Don’t forget Massachusetts dispensary staff must wear identification badges at all times while on the premises and be submitted as registered agents.

      Understand compliance

      At this point, you should understand Massachusetts cannabis laws and what you need to do to keep your dispensary compliant.

      As a reminder, here are the purchase limits for Massachusetts:

      • Adults 21+ can purchase up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrates, or 500 mg of edibles from licensed dispensaries.

      • Adults over the age of 21 can carry up to 1 ounce of marijuana on their person at one time, and possess up to 10 ounces in their home.

      • Consumers can visit multiple dispensaries in one day, but may not exceed the daily purchase limits.

      The Seed-to-Sale Tracking program chosen by the CCC is Metrc. Metrc offers a wealth of education and training for new and prospective dispensary owners. We recommend attending those trainings and taking advantage of the Massachusetts-specific resources provided by Metrc.

      The MA CCC also has documentation to help you navigate your Seed-to-Sale processes.

      To learn more about Metrc, including how to report to Metrc, the difference between plant and package tags, making sense of Metrc receipts, managing inventory, and more, consult these resources:

      Source and intake cannabis products

      Now’s when things really start getting fun: Ordering and receiving your product!

      If you’re not a vertically-integrated company, or only have a dispensary license, you’ll need to find cannabis growers, manufacturers, and/or distributors to supply your store.

      As you’re looking for suppliers, here are a few things to consider:

      • What products they carry (think about your product mix)

      • The taste and quality of the products

      • Fulfillment (how do they get products to you and when)

      • Prices (and ability to negotiate bulk discounts)

      • Testing processes and results

      • Reliability (will they run out suddenly, stop communicating, etc.)

      • Process for placing orders and overall organization

      Packaging and label requirements

      Massachusetts has a few specifications for cannabis product packaging and labels.

      Here’s what you need to know:

      • Packages must include warnings about impairment, habit-forming risks, driving or operating machinery, and risks involving use while pregnant.

      • All packages must state the 21-year-old age limit.

      • All products must have child-resistant packaging.

      • Products and packaging must not appeal to minors.

      • Packaging must indicate the number of servings within it.

      • All packages must include a statement that the product is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      Inventory intake

      Once your cannabis products arrive, you must “intake” them into your store in a specific way to remain compliant with Metrc. Before you can bring physical inventory into your store, you must receive and review a manifest. The manifest is created by the supplier — which will either be you or other cannabis companies.

      The manifest includes the harvest, weight, unit of measure, cost, etc. of the product.

      You must review the manifest, and if everything is correct, accept it. When the package comes in, you'll physically inspect the package, and make sure it’s exactly as ordered.

      You then accept it in Metrc, which tells Metrc that you are in legal possession of this inventory.

      Now you can stock your shelves and sell the product. But you’ll also need to develop SOPs for intaking and auditing your inventory.

      Pro tip: Use this 📝 Inventory Intake SOP to document your processes!

      Choose your network, hardware, and cannabis tech stack

      Your technology stack is crucial to success as a cannabis business owner. Some are must-haves for compliance, like your security system and cannabis point-of-sale, while others are vital to a pleasant and seamless customer shopping experience.

      Here are just a few of the technology solutions you’ll need to consider for your dispensary:

      • Network

      • Hardware
        • Printers (both letter-sized and receipts)

        • TVs

        • Cash drawers

        • Computers (for staff work, like inventory)

        • Tablets or terminals

        • Barcode scanners

      • Software
        • POS

        • Ecommerce

        • Payment provider for non-cash transactions

        • Digital menus

        • Kiosks

        • Loyalty programs

        • CRM

        • HR/Payroll tools

        • Accounting software

        • Analytics tools

        • Social media management and monitoring

        • Website

      You don’t need to invest in every cannabis-specific technology solution, but make sure you’re using tools that will help you stay compliant and enable you to better reach and satisfy modern shoppers.

      Remember: While non-cannabis-specific tools exist, they often can’t handle the complexities of the cannabis industry, such as compliance and inventory management. Be sure to thoroughly vet every potential partner to ensure that they can handle your actual needs.

      cannabis technology

      📖 Read the Guide to Cannabis Tech Software for a complete list of top cannabis companies for your dispensary tech stack.

      Market your dispensary

      Now that your store is ready, your team is trained, and all your technology is set, it’s time to get the word out.

      Dispensaries notoriously have more challenges with marketing than traditional businesses because of stigma, regulations, and the federal illegality of the cannabis market.

      But there are still many marketing tactics you can use to promote your new dispensary:

      1. Develop a beautiful, functional dispensary website. Enabling online ordering through your website is a great way to appeal to digital-friendly shoppers. Focus on product-based SEO to expand your reach. Check out these dispensary website examples for inspiration.

      2. Fine-tune your social media presence (but be careful what you post).

      3. Develop a rewarding loyalty program.

      4. Consider events to attract new customers to your store.

      Thinking about other forms of advertising? Massachusetts’ CCC defines advertisement as “A form of marketing communication that employs a sponsored, non-personal message to sell or promote Marijuana Establishment or Medical Marijuana Treatment Center’s (ME or MTC) Brand Name, Branded Good, service, or idea.”

      Brand Name is your brand name, registered trademark, logo, symbol, motto, selling message, recognizable pattern of colors, or any other identifiable marker associated with your brand or business.

      Branded Good is non-edible merchandise associated with your dispensary that is identifiable by your Brand Name. MA permits use of Brand Name on (and to sell) t-shirts, water bottles, cups, drink holders, key chains, hats or other apparel items, electronic equipment or accessories, sporting equipment, novelty items, and similar portable items. You may promote your business and Brand Name on your Branded Goods, but you may not promote marijuana or marijuana products.

      Note: Any item used to introduce marijuana to the human body, such as vaporizers, pipes, bongs, etc. may not be sold as Branded Goods, though grinders, lighters, and rolling trays may be sold as Branded Goods.

      Branded Good does not include marijuana, marijuana products, or marijuana accessories, but licensees are allowed to include Brand Name and/or logos on products because it’s considered packaging.

      Here are the basic rules set out by the CCC for cannabis-related advertising in Massachusetts:

      • Ensure your advertising does not focus on marijuana or a specific marijuana product.

      • You may advertise, but you must ensure that the medium — such as television, radio, internet, mobile application, social media, or other electronic communication billboards or other outdoor advertising, or print publication — targets an audience where 80% of the population is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older. Use reliable and current audience composition data to determine audience makeup. The Commission may request to see and/or verify the information used to make such decisions.

      • You may use the terms “cannabis,” “THC,” and “marijuana” in logos and business names. But colloquial references, including terms used in pop culture, are not allowed.

      • You may not directly or indirectly target or appeal to individuals under the age of 21. Packaging must be child-proof and cannot include imagery or elements targeted toward minors.

      • Dispensaries may use descriptive clauses or phrases on store signage, such as “cannabis dispensary” or “recreational marijuana dispensary.” But be sure to check local ordinances as well.

      • Dispensaries may not offer free or discounted marijuana or mairjuana products as part of a marketing activity or rewards program. Note: Medical treatment centers may offer free or reduced products and offer rewards programs, coupons, or other discounts to Registered Qualifying Patients.

      • Cannabis marketing cannot “jeopardize public health,” meaning you may not advertise near minors or child-related businesses.

      Want to dive deeper? The CCC has an FAQ specific to Massachusetts dispensary advertising.

      How to choose a cannabis retail POS system

      Your cannabis point of sale system is the single-most important tool in your stack. It is the central driver for compliance, inventory management, and customer satisfaction.

      Every POS option is a little bit different — and not all work in every state — so be sure to do your homework before signing that dotted line.

      Here are 10 tips for choosing marijuana retail software.

      Flowhub cannabis point of sale for Maryland

      What to look for in a cannabis POS:

      1. State compliance tracking: Metrc (and the other state reporting systems) is why software is so important. Having an API integration that manages this all seamlessly is paramount to save you time and provide peace of mind that you’re staying compliant.

      2. Hardware compatibility: Make sure your software and hardware choices are compatible. Pick a cloud-based software that doesn’t restrict hardware options so that you don’t incur any additional hardware costs or have to change hardware if you change point of sale systems later.

      3. Customer support: You need to get up and running quickly, but you also need ongoing support to answer any questions as they arise. As you demo different software, ask about the ongoing support process and level of support you’ll receive.

      4. Ease of use: Software that fuels your medical marijuana or adult-use retail stores must be easy and intuitive. Staff need to be able to learn it quickly. As you demo different POS systems, pay attention to how the system functions and whether you think it’ll make your staff more productive.

      5. Inventory management: Strong inventory capabilities will keep you compliant and competitive. Similarly, look for software that makes auditing easy, like having a mobile app. The right software should save you time and money in the long run.

      6. Built-in compliance: Software isn’t just important for compliance related to state reporting (like Metrc), it also should help you stay compliant with state marijuana laws, such as purchase limits. Make sure the software you choose has built in safeguards that address your market-specific needs.

      7. Discrepancy reporting: Your Metrc inventory, physical inventory, and point of sale inventory should always be in alignment. Your software should include built-in tools to help you identify and resolve inventory discrepancies.

      8. Activity tracking: In an industry with more loss and theft than the average, it’s important that you can track all activities in your store. This allows you to see what employee made what actions, and when those actions occurred, like making a sale, opening a drawer, moving inventory, etc.

      9. Open API and integrations: Is the software compatible with other vendors? It’s important to consider integrations, especially if you’re interested in online menus, delivery, loyalty programs or other technology offered by partners.

      10. Specialization: Consider the best software for each part of your business. If you have marijuana cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, and cannabis retail operations, it’ll be tempting to pick one software for it all. Better visibility is tempting — you can’t deny that — but all software is best at one thing. If you choose one for all, it means you’ll be putting the other two parts of your business at a disadvantage. Instead, look for vendors who integrate seamlessly.

      Need help opening your dispensary?

      Opening a dispensary in Massachusetts is quite an accomplishment. The market is growing rapidly!

      If you have any remaining questions about opening a dispensary in Massachusetts, our team of cannabis retail experts would be happy to support your journey.

      Book a meeting with Flowhub to chat!

      Amber erickson

      Amber Erickson

      Amber's goal is to create helpful and engaging content to empower cannabis professionals to run a successful and compliant dispensary. Connect with Amber on LinkedIn.

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