The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has asked for a $2.8 million funding increase in a bid to slash waiting times for licenses in half.

The commission said the cash injection would enable it to hire up to 34 new full-time employees, boost operational efficiency and bolster its technological capabilities. It received $9.6 million in funding for fiscal 2020, and it has requested a budget of $12.4 million for next year in order to make the improvements.

Currently businesses must wait 121 days on average for the commission to conduct a license review. It pledged to cut that average wait time to 60 days if it receives the funding it has requested.

“In combination with IT and operational enhancements, hiring more investigators and licensing specialists will enable the commission to process applications on a quicker timeline while also ensuring continued compliance with state law and adherence to our mission,” said MCCC executive director Shawn Collins on a budget letter to the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis in 2016 and the first retail stores opened their doors on Nov. 20, 2018. In the first year of trading, sales reached $394.3 million. Flower comprised 51% of sales, followed by concentrates at 19% and edibles at 17%.

MCCC has issued 246 marijuana licenses since it was formed in 2017, with 72 going to cultivators and 37 to retail stores. Around 7,600 people have been licensed to work in the industry.

However, commission chairman Steven Hoffman believes Massachusetts can reach 250 stores before market saturation kicks in, and that would require more growers too. Prospective licensees have expressed frustration with the length of the licensing process, and the commission wants extra funds to speed it up.

It has also requested $1 million for a public awareness campaign and $2.9 million for the medical marijuana program. Last year the commission scrapped its $50 annual fee for a medical marijuana card and increased the cost of licensing fees for large cultivators and retailers in order to make up the revenue shortfall.

The program has more than 67,000 registered patients and they can choose from 58 medical cannabis treatment centers.

The commission is designed to create a safely regulated industry that will yield employment opportunities and incremental tax revenues, while providing a best practice model for other states.

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