Massachusetts Officially Begins Recreational Cannabis Sales

War veterans were the first customers at two dispensary locations.
Massachusetts Officially Begins Recreational Cannabis Sales
Ky Camacho/ Shutterstock

Massachusetts residents queued for up to two hours today to buy cannabis on the first day of state legal sales. So far, local marijuana customers have two options; New England Treatment Access in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester. At both locations, war veterans were the first historic customers to receive their cannabis.

Long waits on the curb echoed Massachusetts’ unexpectedly long process in opening the doors of the state’s retail locations a full two years after voters approved Question 4, which legalized cannabis for users of 21 years or older. Recreational sales had been projected to begin on July 1, but hit a series of roadblocks including a lack of testing labs and a desire to ensure proper supply. The state’s Cannabis Control Commission has now issued 20 provisional licenses, and was set to vote on two final retail licenses on Tuesday, so more cannabis shops should be opening within the next months.

Cannabis activist Stephen Mandile was the first to queue at the cash register of Cultivate, which received the state’s first retail permit this summer. Mandible, an Iraq War veteran from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, has been vocal in the struggle to ensure easy access to marijuana in his state. He uses the plant to deal with the symptoms of PTSD, chronic pain, and a traumatic brain injury.

A veteran was also first in line at NETA, where Northampton mayor and ex-Air Force recruit David Narkewicz snagged a $24, 54.81 milligram infused chocolate bar. “This is not your grandmother’s marijuana,” he commented to a reporter from Yahoo Finance. He didn’t take a bite right away, and was by some accounts having trouble hanging onto his purchase. Reports say Narkewicz was being urged to donate his history-making candy bar to the Northampton Historical Society.

“I don’t have work ’till the evening, so I was like, ‘Let’s stand in history, man,’” one Cultivate customer told WBUR 90.9 FM. She wasn’t alone — many had donned puffy coats and beanies to be shuttled from a parking lot that had been set up a mile away from the store to accommodate the expected crowd. Leicester police had put first day Cultivate customer estimates at 600 to 1,000 people — a considerable logistical issue for a 40-person capacity dispensary.

Such was concern over traffic that the two stores that opened on Tuesday were forced to wait three days after receiving their final regulatory clearance in order to best organize crowd logistics. Finally in front of Cultivate, customers were subject to a multi-hour wait on the sidewalk in between November snow banks. There wasn’t much to see from their vantage point; Massachusetts dispensaries are not allowed to have neon lights or names and logos that reference marijuana.

Long waits are becoming standard for state roll-outs of recreational marijuana sales. To alleviate the inconvenience of cannabis delay, NETA’s website says it will be providing chairs, umbrellas, and refreshments to customers. Of course, some customers were well-prepared for the wait.

The maximum amount of cannabis available for purchase by a single customer in Massachusetts is five grams of concentrate or one ounce of flower, for which Cultivate was charging $225. Edibles are allowed to contain no more than five milligrams of THC per serving, and include no more than 20 servings per packaged item. Many stores will have separate retail floors for recreational and medical customers. State law requires that stores reserve 35 percent of their stock for medical patients, who have priority in these initial days of limited supply.

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