You’d probably assume that the first guy to legally buy recreational cannabis in Massachusetts ate or smoked it. But five years ago in Northampton, then-Mayor David Narkewicz had bigger plans for his little slice of history.
At precisely 8 a.m. on Nov. 20, 2018, Narkewicz bought a 10-piece chocolate bar infused with 100 milligrams of THC at the New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton. The exchange marked the first sale of recreational marijuana east of the Mississippi River, as well as the start of a multi-billion-dollar industry in Massachusetts.
That same day, the former mayor called staffers at Historic Northampton to let them know he hoped his uneaten edible and its indelible place in history would one day be theirs to protect indefinitely.
“We were a little nervous about how we were gonna preserve it,” said Kelsey Sinelnikov, collections manager for the downtown museum.
The mayor initially displayed the pot chocolate bar in his office, encased in a custom-made plexiglass box. He handed it over to Historic Northampton when his decade-long tenure as mayor ended in 2021.
Sinelnikov said it’s not always easy to “know what’s gonna be historic down the road,” but she and her colleagues were “really excited” about the mayor’s request.
"We thought: 'This is history happening,' " she said.
Keeping the candy from melting was a top concern, Sinelnikov said. After consulting a conservator, museum workers kept the 7.5-inch bar tucked away in a cool, dry spot, where temperatures never rise above 72 degrees. The case thwarts pests, and staffers monitor shifts in humidity to ensure mold doesn’t sprout up.
Still, "I wouldn't eat it," joked Sinelnikov. (The bar expired in 2019.) She used purple nitrile gloves to gingerly pull the bar from its stand onto a table.
The modest confection is the sole food item, and only recreational marijuana memento, in the museum. It's preserved alongside thousands of other objects that tell the city's history like locally-made COVID masks and pandemic paraphernalia, as well as dozens of aging signs from prominent storefronts and other businesses, like the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Visitors may see the weed chocolate by appointment only.
It’s notable that another medical marijuana shop, Cultivate, also opened its doors in Leicester to adult-use customers at the same time NETA in Northampton did. It’s unclear, in the chaos of the day, which sales were truly first.
What NETA's Kelly Beaudoin can vividly recall is the intensity and excitement that surrounded Massachusetts' big shift into the recreational pot market.
"It was wild," Beaudoin, general manager of NETA Northampton said, recalling how people camped in front of the store the night before to be among the first in line. "The lines wrapped around our entire sidewalk, our entire building and then back down the road."
Patrons shuffled in line for up to four hours in those first few weeks, Beaudoin, 33, said. People paid strangers in line $20 to hold their spots. A person calling themselves "Potsquatch" entertained restless crowds dressed as a pro-marijuana mascot.
Moments after the mayor's purchase, Beaudoin sold the first piece of recreational marijuana to a citizen customer. And he did indeed have plans to consume it.
Roughly 3,000 customers — many from all over New England or farther down the East Coast — came each day, she said, pulling out cash or debit cards to get up to an ounce of flower or edibles. Beaudoin said, back then, it was "totally normal" for the store to sell about $250,000 worth of product in a day.
Today, New Hampshire is the only New England state where the sale of recreational cannabis is currently illegal.
And in Massachusetts, industry competition has ballooned. NETA remains Northampton's only medical marijuana facility, but according to Beaudoin, it is one of roughly two-dozen recreational cannabis shops within about a 10-mile radius. In this more saturated market, the city has seen a couple pot shops close.
As NETA set up for its five-year "birthday party" Saturday — complete with "uninfused" edible samples, raffles and other pot promotions — Beaudoin said she's proud of the ways her company has improved experiences for its medical marijuana patients and recreational clients since those early days.
"I remember thinking, 'I hope we get through this.' ... Like, I told my dad I shouldn't work at the Post Office, this has got to work out for me," she said, laughing. "It's just really, really wild to think all these years later ... how we've grown."