Update: The Cannabis Control Commission on Friday issued certificates to commence business to recreational marijuana retailers Cultivate in Leicester and New England Treatment Access in Northampton. The first sales are expected on Tuesday.
After months of waiting, the first legal sale of adult-use, or recreational, cannabis in Massachusetts is just days away.
Two shops, now serving medical marijuana patients, are making final preparations before opening their doors to anyone over the age of 21. Cultivate in Leicester and New England Treatment Access, or NETA, in Northampton, were both issued authorizations by the Cannabis Control Commission Friday, allowing them to start retail sales in three days.
A spokesman for NETA says the shop will start recreational sales Tuesday.
"We were ready for it in July," said Jennifer Miller, dispensary manager at Cultivate. "I think we've taken all the necessary steps to make sure that we are very well prepared. We've had a lot of time, so we're ready to go."
More retailers will come online across Massachusetts. But for the first few days, Cultivate and New England Treatment Access in Northampton will have the retail market all to themselves.
And the market is expected to be booming.
At Cultivate, for the initial rush, customers will be directed to a satellite parking lot a half mile away. Shuttle buses will ferry customers between the parking lot and the store, which is located on the outskirts of town, just off Route 9.
Miller says card-carrying medical patients will still be a top priority.
"The way that the dispensary is organized is essentially we have two registers here to the right that will be just for medical patients only," she said. "And then these other eight here. So 10 in total will be for adult use. So by regulation we have to separate the two but it's actually a benefit to the medical patients that they have a dedicated service area just for them."
Medical patients will be able to buy cannabis products in greater quantities, higher doses and tax-free. Retail customers are limited to one ounce of flower, or five grams of concentrate, per transaction, and will pay a 20 percent tax on the purchase. With tax, an ounce of flower of your, say, traditional marijuana could run as high as $420, and prices could go up if demand is high.
"We think they'll be a good bellwether and we think ... they'll be a great neighbor," said Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux.
He says the community is embracing the new industry and Cultivate.
"Nobody in the area of Cultivate has had any complaints about their operations up to this point," Genereaux said. "So, you know, I think that sets it up pretty well."
Thirty-five miles west of Leicester, the staff of New England Treatment Access, or NETA, is getting ready for retail sales as well.
NETA has also been serving medical marijuana patients, opening its doors in September 2015. Unlike Cultivate, which is somewhat remote, NETA is located in a busy section of Northampton just off Interstate 91.
NETA's director of compliance, Amanda Rositano, is hoping the initial days of retail sales go smoothly.
"I think for me it's going to be, you know, just being on my toes and making sure that everyone's taken care of and that if anything does come up that we can really quickly address that and have a plan in place to continue to have a smooth, effective operation and really have a positive impact on this community," Rositano said.
Retail customers will have to show a government-issued ID in order to enter the store. Cannabis sales consultants, like NETA's Jake Moriarty, will be manning the registers and assisting customers.
"With the medical [marijuana] we've been helping so many people in the state of Massachusetts to improve their lives that I'm just looking forward to helping out a bigger scope of the public," Moriarty said.
One unknown as the first day of sales approaches is exactly how many people will head to the two dispensaries. Lines will be long, and there is certain to be traffic.
Leicester Police Chief James Hurley says they're putting a special operations plan in place.
"We're ready to control traffic. We're ready to control the crowd," Hurley said. "We are basically ready for any type of situation that might arise based upon the opening. We do not anticipate any problems but we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Also hoping for the best are other businesses in the two communities, who are banking on a bump from cannabis shoppers visiting town.
"I've actually had friends and people that have just come into the tea room that had planned trips to Northampton over the summer, because NETA was supposed to have opened already," said Alli Jukiro, who owns Dobrá Tea in the city's downtown. "So it's already created a buzz all across the country."
It's not clear how long NETA and Cultivate will be the only two adult-use retailers open to the public. Fifty-five more retailers currently have applications in the pipeline and are all hoping to get in on the action as soon as they can.
This article was originally published on November 16, 2018.
This segment aired on November 16, 2018.