In November, Massachusetts became the first state on the eastern half of the United States to open adult-use dispensaries. Cultivate Holdings in Leicester and New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton opened their doors on Nov. 20.
The Bay State’s pot industry had an explosive start: according to a report from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, consumers spent approximately $2.2 million in the first five days of business with 56,380 units purchased. Consumers spent an average of $39.33 on 3.4 items per person. On Nov. 23 – Black Friday, the typical start of holiday season shopping – customers spent a total of $480,000. The Commission did not disclose how much each location sold individually.
And money going into dispensaries means cash flow into the surrounding communities. According to Boston Magazine, Northampton and Leicester will take in $66,528 in local taxes. The Commonwealth will take in $376,995 from sales.
But it hasn’t been all money bags and hazy daze. There have been substantial growing pains over the last few weeks. In Leicester, residents expressed concerns about limited parking and increased foot traffic. Cultivate Holdings has since contracted an additional police detail and arranged more parking.
Although it’s been crazy, we decided to see what the hoopla was all about. So we made the trip to Northampton NETA location.
At 11 a.m. on a Saturday, street parking was full and an overflow lot a short distance away was beginning to fill. Seated in a camping chair in front of the Ostrander Law Offices, Northampton resident Candace Clark was bundled up for a cold day outside, renting out parking spaces at her office for $5.
“My boss got the idea and put out the sign,” she said. “He didn’t want to do it today, so I’m going to make a little extra Christmas shopping money and people are going to have a safe place to park.”
Clark said the traffic had started early and was growing since before the store opened. Despite contrary belief, Clarke said the lines were long but the stress was low on opening day.
“We maybe had one or two stray people around that we had to ask to move but it was no big deal,” she said. “People are well behaved, very courteous, and very nice,” she said. “After [the dispensaries] made the two million in the first week, obviously it’s going to do the community some good with the taxes they’ll be getting. I’m all for it.”
At the end of the line, a NETA employee handed out a six-page double-sided menu. The vibe was mellow: customers smoked cigarettes and shared jokes as they waited. They held spots for each other as people went to use the port-a-johns, put more change in the parking meter, or run to Dunkin’s for a cup of joe.
If the discussion wasn’t exclusively about the flower, edibles, vape pen cartridges, and concentrates that waited beyond two heavy doors with windows of tinted glass, one might have thought customers were waiting to buy the latest iPhone.
The Customers in Line
Will Henton stood in a patch of sunlight, bouncing on his toes, trying to keep warm. We asked him what he was planning to get.
“I’m hoping to get to heaven,” he said. “It’s a shake of the dice, but I definitely want something that’s going to knock me on my ass. I’m a flower man, so I think I’m leaning toward that.”
Henton said he drove from New Haven, Connecticut to buy his first legal cannabis.
“It was either come here and visit today or go and call up my dealer,” he said. “I’m tired of looking over my shoulder over something that’s completely harmless.”
Further ahead in line, Manny and Erin West drove an hour from Dorchester, Mass. They decided to come to the Northampton dispensary because they heard it had shorter lines.
“I’ve never heard of this town, but I like it,” he said. “We’re going to hang out, get some lunch, and then head home.”
Manny said he was interested in GG #4, an indica-leaning hybrid landing at a potent 27.5 percent THC, while Erin had her eye on some edibles.
“I think of this as takeout,” he said of his dispensary experience. “You can always cook at home, but when you’ve got a little extra, you like to go out to Red Lobster.”
The View from the Other Side
Amanda Rositano, NETA’s director of compliance, said the organization prepared for months in advance for opening day. They added more staff, increased production at their Franklin, Massachusetts facility; and curated service stations inside the dispensaries. Rositano said traffic volume at the Northampton dispensary has been at about 2,000 people per day, increasing slightly over the weekends.
Unlike dispensaries in Canada, which experienced product shortages soon after opening, NETA was ready for the rush, with a reserve-ahead option for customers. NETA has also set limits on the quantity of flower or pre-rolls customers can buy per visit.
“We may start to see limits on some of the other more popular products, but so far we’ve managed to keep an adequate supply up and productivity is looking good,” she said.
Rositano also said patients were allowed to enter without waiting.
“The most important piece for us is that patients are our number one priority,” she said. “There are no lines for medical patients and they continue to have the same level of service they’ve come to expect from us.”
After waiting in line for four hours, Paul Zichichi of Springfield, Mass. emerged from the exit feeling satisfied.
“With the line aside, it was convenient and easy,” he said. “It was a good experience and I’ll be back again. Whoever opens the next one is going to have a money printing machine on their hands.”
Rita Patel, owner of Northampton Liquors Wine and Beer– located around the corner behind the dispensary, said she felt the parking situation was growing tiresome.
“We only have a small number of parking spaces for our customers,” she said. “We’ve had to tell people to move their cars or not to park here and wait for their friends. It can be stressful at times.”
But the customers?
“The customers have been very nice,” she said. “They’re very cooperative and friendly and even will come in to buy snacks. In some ways it has been good for business.”