Chart of the Week: Time From MMJ Legalization, Regulation to Industry’s Launch in New Markets

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By Becky Olson

Some of the newest states to join the medical cannabis industry have gotten their programs up and running fairly quickly, an encouraging sign for cannabis entrepreneurs going forward.

Others took an excruciatingly long time though – indicating that delays are still a very real part of the industry.

Over the past year, six states have welcomed the opening of the first licensed dispensaries: Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Nevada.

The time frame between legalization and the start of MMJ sales was fairly short in two of them.

The first dispensaries in Minnesota opened 13 months after the state legalized medical cannabis – one of the shortest windows in the industry’s history – while storefronts launched in New York 18 months after officials approved MMJ use and sales.

Interestingly, both those markets prohibit smokable marijuana (only oils and certain types of infused products are allowed), though it’s unclear if that had any bearing on the timeline to get their markets up and running.

In Nevada, dispensaries opened 22 months after the state approved a regulatory and licensing structure on marijuana businesses, which is more in line with the historical average in other states.

Dispensaries experienced some delays in part due to licensing setbacks and regulatory issues. (Note: Nevada legalized medical cannabis long ago but didn’t green-light a regulatory framework allowing dispensaries until 2013).

It also took about two years for dispensaries to open in Illinois, which faced licensing hurdles as well.

The longest timelines occurred in Massachusetts (more than two and a half years) and Delaware (over four years) because of some more serious roadblocks, including resistance by local officials at some point along the way.

The good news is states that legalized or established regulations on the industry within the past two years are generally moving forward much faster than those that did so before then. This is a clear indication that states are increasingly able to efficiently develop regulatory frameworks and license cannabis businesses in the wake of legalization.

Even more encouraging is that recreational cannabis states are advancing much faster, with it taking 15 months on average between the legalization of adult-use marijuana (in Colorado, Washington State and Oregon) to the first rec sales.

 Becky Olson can be reached at