How to Open a Dispensary in Massachusetts: Operating & Marketing

Posted on January 1st, 2022 to Dispensary Marketing

Marketing Your Dispensary in Massachusetts header

Massachusetts was a forerunner of the New England states when it came to cannabis legalization, with both medical and recreational cannabis. Now, just a few short years later, MA cannabis is a $1.4 billion-per-year industry. Whether you want to open a medical or adult-use dispensary in MA, you’ve got a bit of a journey ahead to get the ball rolling. Check out how to open a dispensary in Massachusetts.

How much does it cost to open a dispensary in Massachusetts?

Before getting started with making plans and filing an application to open a dispensary, it is a good idea to consider the financial requirements. Some estimates state that the startup costs associated with opening a cannabis dispensary in MA can be anywhere from $325,000 to $1.13 million.

Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD, medical) licensing fees are $30,000 with a $1,500 application fee. Retail dispensary licensing fees are $5,000 with a $300 application fee. However, this is just a small portion of how much money you will need to open a dispensary. You will also need funding for the physical storefront and equipment, staffing, marketing, inventory, and more.

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How to Open a Dispensary in Massachusetts

1. Educate yourself on local and state MA cannabis laws

Take a fair amount of time to get as familiar as possible with the MA laws and regulations surrounding cannabis. Whether you are looking into opening a medical or adult-use establishment, these laws cover the regulatory requirements that must be met.

Keep in mind, the bylaws of the city or municipality can dictate local ordinances surrounding cannabis. Some cities will require you to take extra steps before opening a dispensary, and some areas don’t allow retail cannabis establishments. In fact, at one point, 80 communities chose to ban adult-use dispensaries in their area altogether.

The laws set forth by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) can dictate a lot about dispensary operations. For example, the laws can dictate how to market the dispensary or what the establishment must have in terms of equipment before opening. Other things MA laws can dictate when you plan to open a new dispensary include:

  • How inventory tracking should be handled
  • Who can be a partner or associate in your business
  • What types of signage you can place on the building
  • What types of products you can offer
  • Where a dispensary can be located

2. Create a comprehensive business plan for your MA dispensary

After familiarizing yourself with the laws that will affect you as a prospective dispensary owner, begin creating operational plans. The state of MA actually requires all applicants to submit a comprehensive business plan with their license application. The plan should cover:

  • General operation plans
  • A plan for site security
  • Positive impact plans
  • How you will remain compliant with CCC regulations
  • Diversity plans

It should also be noted that anyone who will be listed on the license with you or will have any level of control over the dispensary have to be included in your business plans. During the application process, you will be asked for identifying information for each person involved.

3. Raise capital for your retail cannabis business

As noted above, you will need a substantial amount of money to invest when starting a dispensary in MA. It is a good idea to have funding secured before filing the application. If you are approved for a license, you will be expected to pay the licensing fees and move forward with your business plan. Since most financial institutions don’t offer business loans for cannabis-related operations, you may have to consider:

  • Private funding from family and friends
  • Cannabis-specific lending institutions
  • Startup funding from investors

4. Get a Host Community Agreement signed

Those wishing to open a cannabis establishment in MA must host a Community Outreach Meeting. This meeting must be held within six months of applying for a license to discuss the plans with the local community. When filing your application, you will need to show that you have filed a notice of the meeting with the town planning board or city clerk. To move ahead with opening the dispensary, you will need to have a Host Community Agreement signed showing the town approves of your plans.

5. Apply for Your MA Dispensary License

Lastly, with everything that you need in place, you will be ready to submit your application. The application can be completed online via the Massachusetts Cannabis Industry Portal (MassCIP). After completing the application, the CCC will review it within 90 days and either reject the application or offer a provisional license. If approved, background checks, facility inspections, and community certification confirmations will be carried out by the Commission.

Ready to market your MA dispensary?

Once your new MA dispensary is up and ready for business, it’s all about getting noticed. From email marketing and website SEO, CannaPlanners is your one-stop shop for digitally marketing your cannabis brand. Ready to start the conversation?Massachusetts is paving the way for legal cannabis in New England. Regulations surrounding advertising, marketing, and sales are notoriously complex. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has set forth a collection of regulations that all companies have to follow. The CCC rules and regulations are built around three primary factors, including:

  • Age restrictions
  • Discretion of advertising
  • Exhaustive warnings.

What does this mean? Well, if you’re marketing a dispensary in Massachusetts, navigating the regulations can be tough. We’ve pulled together an overview to give you an idea of what to expect, as well as some resources to bookmark for future reference.

Dispensary Marketing Restrictions in Massachusetts

Below, we’ve broken down the CCC’s marketing restrictions and regulations into the three main categories:

1. Age Restrictions

A major rule with all forms of cannabis marketing in MA is to make sure your target audience is over 21. There are several rules to follow here to stay compliant, such as:

  • No advertising unless at least 85% of your target audience is expected to be over 21, whether on TV, in print, online, or otherwise. age gate example 2
    • This one is pretty ambiguous, we know. Billboards are an exception here, as we know many Mass. dispensaries utilizing this form of advertising.
  • Don’t use elements to advertise that would appeal to people under 21, such as cartoons, mascots, or even certain celebrities.
  • Incorporate an age-verification gate on your website to verify visitors as 21 or older.
  • Cannabis product packaging can’t be attractive to people under 21; no bright or neon colors, mimicking other known consumer brand imagery, no imagery like cartoons or symbols appealing to minors, and no words commonly associated with marketing to minors.
  • Packaging must be plain or opaque, certified child-resistant, and resealable if it contains multiple servings in one package.

2. Discretion of Advertising

Where and how you advertise is also regulated. A few important CCC marketing restrictions include:

  • No medical symbols, marijuana images, marijuana-related images, or unspoken references to marijuana in the logo used by your brand.
  • No illuminated outdoor signs earlier than 30 minutes before dark on physical storefronts.
  • Discreet promotion of cannabis products only; no freebies or donations of cannabis, no pop-up ads online, no vehicular ads, no use of loudspeakers or radio to announce promotions, no price mentions in cannabis marketing materials, no ads of cannabis products on promotional merchandise, and no ads anywhere where cannabis and related products are not for sale.

3. Exhaustive Warnings

When building your dispensary marketing plan, remember these regulations on exhaustive warnings.

  1. All marketing, branding, and advertising materials must state “Please Consume Responsibly,” on the ad itself and offer two or more of the following warnings:
    • “For use only by adults 21 years of age or older. Keep out of the reach of children.”
    • “There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product.”
    • “Marijuana should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.”
    • “This product may cause impairment and may be habit-forming.”
    • “Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.”
  2. All marketing, branding, and advertising materials must offer this full warning in its entirety, right down to the capitalization:
      • This product has not been analyzed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is limited information on the side effects of using this product, and there may be associated health risks. Marijuana use during pregnancy and breast-feeding may pose potential harms. It is against the law to drive or operate machinery when under the influence of this product. KEEP THIS PRODUCT AWAY FROM CHILDREN. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product. Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. The impairment effects of edible marijuana may be delayed by two hours or more. In case of accidental ingestion, contact poison control hotline 1-800-222-1222 or 9-1-1. This product may be illegal outside of MA.
  3. All product packages must state, “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” in ten-point or larger Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Arial style font, in all caps.
  4. Any cannabis product that contains more than one serving must have the statement, “INCLUDES MULTIPLE SERVINGS” in ten-point or larger Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Arial style font, in all caps.

Hire A Cannabis-Specific Marketing Team

Because of these strict laws and regulations, it’s important to hire an agency partner that’s dedicated to the cannabis industry. You want to work with a team you can trust to build you a brand and a website that’s compliant with your state’s laws. At CannaPlanners, we’ve been working with cannabis companies throughout Massachusetts since 2016, so we’re well-versed in what you can and can’t do. Reach out to us to schedule a call about how we can help.

Final Word on Marketing a Dispensary in Massachusetts

In conclusion, it’s incredibly important that your dispensary’s marketing efforts are geared toward people over the age of 21, and that you comply with discreet marketing practices which offer the required warnings and labels. It can be a lot to take in when you are in the process of building your dispensary’s marketing plan. If you need a little help in the process, feel free to reach out to us at CannaPlanners.

VP Digital Marketing, CMO

This post was written by Zach Santarsiero.

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