BOSTON — Marijuana regulators could approve the first prospective marijuana businesses for expedited licensing next week, after the Cannabis Control Commission's staff is able to review more than 200 applications that were started in the first 24 hours since the commission began accepting applications.

The CCC began accepting applications at noon Monday to be part of its priority certification process, which is open to registered marijuana dispensaries (RMDs) and those eligible to apply through the CCC's economic empowerment program.

Executive Director Shawn Collins told the CCC on Tuesday there had been 274 user accounts created and 218 total applications were started between the noon launch on Monday and the CCC's meeting at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Of those 218 applications, 129 are seeking to be approved for priority review as part of the program that the CCC put in place to "ensure that people from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana law enforcement are included in the new legal marijuana industry." The remaining 89 applications were started by RMDs seeking to add the ability to sell marijuana to adults who are not medical patients.

As of Tuesday morning, 18 of the RMD applications had been completed and were pending before the CCC for certification and five economic empowerment applications had been completed, Collins said. He told commissioners he expects to begin bringing batches of applications to the CCC for approval beginning next week.

If they are certified by the CCC, applicants who qualify for priority review will be able to submit their marijuana license application beginning April 16. May 1 will be the first day the CCC accepts applications for cultivators, craft marijuana cooperatives, microbusinesses and independent testing labs. Marijuana retailers, product manufacturers and transporters will be able to apply for licenses beginning June 1, the CCC has said.

It remains unclear what types of licenses those applying for priority review plan to seek. The CCC included a question on the priority review application asking which license types the applicant is interested in, but applicants are not required to answer the question.

Before they can become licensed by the CCC, marijuana businesses will also have to present evidence that it has a location for the business and has executed a host community agreement with the city or town in which it will be located. That requires prospective licensees to find a city or town that has not either banned or put a freeze on adult use marijuana establishments. The Boston Globe reported last month that at least 189 of the 351 municipalities have banned retail marijuana stores and most have also imposed restrictions on other marijuana businesses.

Among those who applied for priority review on Monday was Michael Dundas, president and CEO of Sira Naturals. Dundas' company operates RMDs in Cambridge, Somerville and Needham as well as a cultivation facility in Milford.

Dundas said Monday that he had no problems accessing the CCC's application portal or completing the CCC's application. He said the CCC has done "an outstanding job" facilitating the rollout of applications for businesses.

"Many of us had thought when we first heard what they planned to do that it was going to be impossible for them to achieve it," Dundas said, referring to the CCC's timeline for applications, licensing and the expected July 1 launch of legal sales. "Much to the surprise of many of us out here, they have hit every single benchmark."

He said none of the communities in which Sira Naturals operates have yet zoned for non-medical marijuana facilities and that the company is working with local officials "to facilitate adult use sales, if possible."

Dundas was not the only applicant who had a smooth experience Monday. Collins said Tuesday that the computer system used to manage applications functioned smoothly Monday and was not overworked.

"From all the interactions we had yesterday, the system remained flat from a performance standpoint. There were no blips, there was no stress," he said. "So we are very confident that as folks continue to interact with our system it will perform as expected."

CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said he was not surprised by the number of applications started on the first day.

"We were trying hard not to set expectations ... I thought it was a good number but I did not have a specific number in mind," he said. "I'm just happy that it's substantial and the system has performed as expected."

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker again said he thinks "it's important for us to move slowly on this" and said he thinks the CCC was wise to stagger when it would accept different types of applications.

"I think the thing we should all keep in mind here is those folks have been working unbelievably hard to get to this point," Baker said. "There were a lot of people who didn't think they'd be in a position to start accepting licenses on April 1 and they were, so kudos to them."

--Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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