The First Retail Marijuana Businesses Open in Massachusetts

Thousands of people lined up in the cold and rain on Tuesday, Nov. 20 to be the first to legally buy non-medical marijuana on the east coast. The hour-long lines formed outside New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester, the first two businesses to be fully licensed as retail marijuana establishments in Massachusetts.

This day comes two years after Massachusetts voters approved the legalization of marijuana for adults aged 21 or older. The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has been in charge of setting up regulations for the Massachusetts marijuana industry that is estimated to be worth $1.37 billion a year according to data investment firm New Frontier.

"This is obviously a major milestone for the commission and, more importantly, for the state. It is something that we have been working, as a commission, extraordinarily hard on for slightly over fourteen months,” said CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman in an interview with the Boston Globe. “It’s only two stores but it represents, I think, a formidable accomplishment from a standing start fourteen months ago where we not only developed regulations [but also] issued licenses…  but built an agency to enforce those regulations going forward."

Credit: New England Treatment Access Catalog 

Both stores were previously medical marijuana dispensaries but now are hybrid medical-recreational cannabis shops. At both locations, the products included cannabis flower, pre-rolled joints, concentrates, and edibles. Unlike other recreational stores already open in western states, neither stores experienced a shortage of products on the first day.

Credit: Jesse Costa, WBUR

The stores both opened their doors for anyone over 21 for the first time at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The lines, however, started well before that. While at Cultivate the line was only allowed to start at 7 a.m., some people camped out overnight in front of the NETA store. NETA officials reported that at around 11 a.m. the wait in line was roughly two and a half hours.

By the end of the first day, NETA reported serving about 2,000 customers and Cultivate reported serving about 1,000 customers.

“We are humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response during the first two days of sales,” said the president of Cultivate, Sam Barber, to the Boston Globe.  “This is an enormously gratifying moment for the whole Cultivate team to finally get to sell the products we have obsessed over creating for the past two years.”

Credit: Gazette Staff

The first customer at NETA was the mayor of Northampton, David Narkewicz, who luckily got to skip the lines. Narkewicz tweeted a copy of his receipt for his $20 dark chocolate bar infused with THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana. He told reporters at the event that he intends to frame the "historic" purchase instead of consuming it.

Credit: Avital Norman Nathman for Leafly

Also making an appearance at NETA was the infamous "Potsquatch,” also known as Dave Mech, 57, of Springfield, Massachusetts, covered head to toe in a leafy marijuana costume. Based on the length of the lines and the total sales of the day, Potsquatch was not the only one excited by the historic opportunity to buy marijuana legally. According to data released by the CCC, consumers spent $440,011 at the two stores on over 10,7000 individual products.

The state takes a 17% cut from the sales through the regular state 6.25% sales tax and then the 10.75% excise tax on marijuana. That adds up to be $74,800 that the state made from one day of legal marijuana sales. The communities of Leicester and Northampton also impose their own 3% local tax on cannabis sales.

Despite the financial incentive and pressure to open more shops as soon as possible, the CCC said they are making sure they do things the right way, instead of doing things quickly.

"I always said we’re not putting a precise date on it. We’re going to do it right,” said Hoffman to reporters after a public meeting in September.

The CCC first met in September of 2017 and by April of 2018, they had started to accept applications for marijuana licenses. Since then they have received 3,747 total applications, 75 of which were marijuana retailer applications, according to a Nov. 1 public meeting. Of the 75 marijuana retailer applications, 58 are currently in review.

Cultivate and NETA received their final business licenses from the CCC on Oct. 4. Since then the CCC has approved three more final licenses for retail marijuana businesses including Alternative Therapies Group, Inc. in Salem; I.N.S.A., Inc. in Easthampton; and Pharmacannis Massachusetts in Wareham.

These three businesses still have a few more weeks before opening as retail stores. Even after receiving their final licenses the businesses have to meet the CCC's conditions and wait for word from the CCC to start full operations before they can sell anything recreationally.

The CCC has given initial approval to almost two dozen more retailers as well which means within the next few months more and more recreational shops will open throughout Massachusetts. However, recreational shops might take longer to open in Boston.

“It’s easy to open up a facility, but we’re not opening up a Dunkin’ Donuts here," said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh to the Boston Herald. "We’re opening up a brand-new business in the city of Boston that we have to be very thoughtful on to make sure that we get it right.”

In Boston, retail marijuana business hopefuls have to go through Boston specific steps for approval before trying to get approval from the CCC.

Retail marijuana businesses first must complete an initial application, apply for a conditional use permit, go through appeals if needed, create a host community agreement, and then complete the state’s, the CCC's, approval process according to a document obtained by the Boston Herald.

So far only one recreational marijuana business has signed a host community agreement. The business, Ascend Mass LLC, entered into the host community agreement on Nov. 21. The business still has to wait on receiving approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals and then approval from the CCC. If it receives all the final approvals it would be the first recreational marijuana business in Boston.

"I hope the taxation’s worth the human toll,” said Walsh to the Boston Herald.  “It’s the law now. We’re heading towards there. Boston will be opening up its very first marijuana facility probably early next year."

At least for now, the two retail marijuana businesses have proved popular with hour-long lines outside Cultivate and Neta persisting throughout the weekend.

 

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