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Boston’s First Dispensary Opens as Massachusetts Struggles With Growing Pot Industry

New Boston Dispensary Moves Massachusetts Forward
PHOTO Robbie Shade

Economics

Boston’s First Dispensary Opens as Massachusetts Struggles With Growing Pot Industry

As Massachusetts navigates the unfolding of its legal cannabis market, the Boston area got its first retail outlet with the opening of a Brookline dispensary.

Authorities were relieved that the first day of adult-use cannabis sales in the Boston area last month went smoothly. The move marked a symbolic step forward for the legal market in Massachusetts, approved by the commonwealth’s voters in 2016.

The state’s first legal sales were repeatedly forestalled by bureaucratic delays last year, and consumer impatience was palpable. Finally, on the first day of business at the New England Treatment Access outlet in Brookline on March 23, a total of 2,515 customers were happily and peacefully served.

There was been something of a feeding frenzy in November, when two medical marijuana dispensaries, Cultivate in Leicester and NETA’s other store in Northampton, became the first retail outlets in the state to offer adult-use cannabis. Traffic jams snarled Leicester, and some residents complained about rowdy customers — although the number of sales did not match those on opening day in Brookline. 

Fears of chaos in Brookline were exacerbated by a shutdown of the transit line serving the area due to scheduled repairs. But as Patch notes, the New England Cannabis Convention was simultaneously held at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, which may have siphoned off some of the aficionados. Workshops at the convention focused on what the emerging cannabis industry in Massachusetts will look like.

Equity and Local Control

Although a retail outlet has yet to come to Boston proper, officials are debating how the city’s licensing system for cannabis businesses will operate. Currently under discussion is a plan by City Councilor Kim Janey to take control of the process from the office of Mayor Marty Walsh. Janey’s plan would assign first priority to companies whose owners are from those communities that have been most impacted by cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs, and would also effectively impose a two-year ban on larger cannabis companies backed by money from outside the area.

“If we aren’t intentional, we perpetuate the status quo, which favors large corporations from out of state to come in and take up all the licenses,” Janey said in an interview with the Globe. “Local residents deserve a shot. Right now in Boston, there’s nothing in place for them.”

Some in the state bureaucracy are open to such sentiments. “Councilor Janey’s proposed ordinance is, to me, the new national model,” Shaleen Title of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission told the Globe. “It thoughtfully and deliberately complements the state’s efforts to create the fair industry called for under Massachusetts law.”

Growing Ambitions

According to a count by Boston.com, there are now 14 adult-use dispensaries around the state. Apart from the locations in Brookline, Leicester and Northampton, there are also outlets in Salem, Wareham, Easthampton, Great Barrington,  Pittsfield, Fall River, Hudson, Gardner, Uxbridge, Lowell and Greenfield. More will be opening soon, but the licenses are being staggered by region to avoid customers having to undertake long drives to purchase.

Next in line may be Springfield, a largely working-class city on the Connecticut River, where officials are likewise hashing out the licensing process. Mayor Domenic J. Sarno guardedly told the local Republican newspaper that the city’s Internal Review Committee is developing protocols “to assure a fair, comprehensive, and open planning process.”

Further west, in the state’s distinctly hippie-flavored Berkshire Mountains, Canna Provisions is waiting to open its doors in the town of Lee, with an emphasis on products from local craft and co-operative cannabis purveyors. Canna Provision partner and chief operating officer Erik Williams, the former executive director of the Connecticut NORML, pointed out to Cannabis Now that the Lee location will be the state’s closest to the New York line, calling the town the “gateway to the Berkshires.” 

“A lot of the progressive towns in the Berkshires jumped on board and set up the rules and regulations in a timely manner to establish local control,” Williams said. He calls the Berkshires a “global hotspot for arts, outdoor recreation and wellness retreats,” and believes cannabis will soon be joining its list of attractions. 

Williams’ partner in the effort in is CEO Meg Sanders, a veteran of the Colorado industry who helped open one of the first dispensaries in the Centennial State. Despite this out-of-state background, Canna Provisions plans to strongly emphasize local Berkshire growers.

Canna Provisions is also planning a second location in Holyoke, a post-industrial city in the Springfield metropolitan corridor, where Mayor Alex Morse has been loudly promoting his vision for a cannabis-fueled economic renaissance. Morse has even broached spaces for “social consumption” in Amsterdam-style cafés, and is petitioning the Cannabis Control Commission to take up this idea.

Williams says Canna Provisions’s Lee location will open doors by early May, with sales slated for the Holyoke outlet in June. “We’re betting big on the mayor’s vision,” he said. 

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