First le­gal pot shops on East Coast to open

Res­i­dents backed le­gal­iza­tion 2 years ago

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY BOB SALSBERG

NORTHAMP­TON, MASS. | With its youth­ful vibe and eclec­tic mix of cul­ture, a small Mas­sachusetts city seems a log­i­cal site for the na­tion’s first le­gal recre­ational mar­i­juana sales east of Col­orado.

An ex­ist­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary in Northamp­ton — nes­tled in Mas­sachusetts’ scenic Pi­o­neer Val­ley — plans to open its doors within days to any­one 21 or older look­ing for prod­ucts rang­ing from pre-rolled joints to cannabis-in­fused ed­i­bles, creams, lo­tions and cook­ing oils.

A sec­ond store in the small town of Le­ices­ter also could open at or around the same time, while dozens of other re­tail ap­pli­cants await fi­nal li­cens­ing ap­proval from state reg­u­la­tors.

The ini­tial open­ings come two full years af­ter Mas­sachusetts res­i­dents backed le­gal­iza­tion, a vote hailed by a bur­geon­ing cannabis in­dus­try ea­ger to ex­pand its geo­graphic base be­yond the sev­eral Western U.S. states where recre­ational mar­i­juana is sold.

Mas­sachusetts is pro­jected to see sales of at least $1.8 bil­lion and as high as $5 bil­lion an­nu­ally, in­dus­try lead­ers pre­dict. But the road to le­gal sales has been a long and tedious one. The orig­i­nal tar­get date of Jan. 1, 2018, was al­most im­me­di­ately pushed back six months by the Leg­is­la­ture. Then the July 1 date came and went, and still no stores were cleared to open. Frus­tra­tion grew among wouldbe busi­nesses and con­sumers alike.

Of­fi­cials in many com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing some where the ma­jor­ity of vot­ers had ap­proved le­gal recre­ational mar­i­juana, kept pot shops away through mora­to­ri­ums or zon­ing re­stric­tions, or by de­mand­ing a steep price from cannabis busi­nesses in ex­change for sign­ing host com­mu­nity agree­ments.

Not Northamp­ton, which ap­peared to roll out the wel­come mat. While about 54 per­cent of all Mas­sachusetts vot­ers sup­ported the 2016 ref­er­en­dum, 73 per­cent in Northamp­ton gave their bless­ing, one of the widest mar­gins any­where in the state.

“It’s al­ready counter-cul­ture. It’s like their cus­tomers are al­ready here,” said Steve Morin, a 68-year-old re­tired de­liv­ery truck driver and Air Force vet­eran who lives in Spring­field, Mas­sachusetts.

He vis­its Northamp­ton fre­quently and de­scribed him­self as an oc­ca­sional mar­i­juana user who may shop in the store when it opens.

“It will be good for tourism,” he added. The city’s bustling down­town sports trendy restau­rants and cof­fee shops, book­stores, gal­leries and a per­form­ing arts cen­ter.

Northamp­ton is home to Smith Col­lege, an elite lib­eral arts school for women and one of sev­eral col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties — in­clud­ing the 30,000-stu­dent Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts flag­ship cam­pus — within a 10-mile ra­dius of the city.

Most un­der­grads, how­ever, aren’t old enough to buy mar­i­juana legally.

New Eng­land Treat­ment Ac­cess (NETA), which op­er­ates the dis­pen­sary, is hop­ing for the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first com­mer­cial pot shop to open east of the Mis­sis­sippi.

“There ex­ists a mar­ket­place for mar­i­juana right now in Mas­sachusetts and it’s our job as a reg­u­lated in­dus­try to over time dis­place the cur­rent il­le­gal, un­taxed and untested in­dus­try with one that is con­trolled, reg­u­lated, taxed and tested,” said Nor­ton Al­baraez, the com­pany’s direc­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs.

An­tic­i­pat­ing long lines when the store first opens, NETA has worked closely with po­lice and city of­fi­cials on traf­fic and park­ing is­sues, and re­tained for­mer Bos­ton Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Ed Davis — who be­came a na­tional fig­ure in the af­ter­math of the 2013 Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ings — as a se­cu­rity con­sul­tant, Mr. Al­baraez said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mas­sachusetts is pro­jected to see pot sales of at least $1.8 bil­lion an­nu­ally, in­dus­try lead­ers pre­dict. But the road to le­gal sales has been long. The orig­i­nal tar­get date was pushed back six months.

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