‘Canna-chusetts’: New Englanders Mark 1st Day of Legal Sales

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By Steven Senne and Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press

LEICESTER, Mass. (AP) — Customers waited in long lines, sometimes for hours, on a cold and rainy New England day to be among the first people to legally buy recreational cannabis on the U.S. East Coast.

More than two years after Massachusetts voters approved of legalizing cannabis for adults, the state’s first two fully licensed marijuana shops opened on Nov. 20, 2018. The dispensaries, Cultivate in Leicester and New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton, now are selling flower, prerolls, and edibles such as brownies and chocolate bars.

Cannabis is already sold legally in six Western states, but the long-awaited opening of recreational marijuana outlets in the East was hailed as a major milestone for the cannabis industry in the U.S., with Massachusetts viewed as a potential $1.5 billion-a-year market. Canada began legal sales Oct. 17, 2018.

A big-screen TV at Cultivate displays warnings for customers to keep cannabis out of the reach of children and pets Nov. 20, 2018, in Leicester, Massachusetts. Many customers may be purchasing marijuana for the first time on the inaugural day of recreational sales. (Associated Press Photo/Steven Senne)

A celebratory atmosphere ruled outside the shops, with buyers undaunted by the grim weather. Cheers went up when the stores opened at 8 a.m. sharp. One man, who dubbed himself “Potsquatch,” arrived at the Northampton store adorned from head to toe in a leafy marijuana costume.

Customers were shuttled to Cultivate from a parking lot about a mile away as police kept a visible but low-key presence outside. Customers perused offerings kept behind counters and under glass.

Kenny Boisvert, a 33-year-old Blackstone resident, was pleasantly surprised by his purchasing experience.

“It’s a very nice place. It’s way more than I expected,” he said as he waited to pick up edibles and buds.

Customers consult budtenders Tuesday at Cultivate, a dispensary in Leicester, Massachusetts, on Nov. 20, 2018, the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts. (Associated Press Photo/Steven Senne)

There were no immediate reports of product shortages at the stores, something that has plagued the initial start of recreational cannabis sales in some other states. Massachusetts’ top marijuana regulator said the crowds appeared orderly and praised operators for doing a thorough job of preparing for the first sales.

“It’s only two stores but it represents, I think, a formidable accomplishment,” said Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, noting the panel started meeting only 14 months ago.

Some legalization advocates have been critical of the slow pace of regulation and licensing by the state, while others have faulted cities and towns for throwing up roadblocks to marijuana businesses, or in some cases banning them altogether.

The commission issued final licenses Tuesday to two more retail stores, in Salem and Easthampton, which could open in the coming weeks. But as yet there are no shops in the greater Boston area, where more than half the state’s population resides.

George Graham, of Shelton, Connecticut, told Masslive.com he drove up Nov. 19 and got in line early at NETA after spending the night at a nearby motel.

Arnon Vered, co-founder of Northeast Treatment Access (NETA), gives the first recreational-sale edible to Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz on Nov. 20, 2018, the first day of adult-use marijuana sales in Massachusetts. NETA in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester are the first Massachusetts dispensaries licensed for retail sales. (The Daily Hampshire Gazette via The Associated Press/Carol Lollis)

“Everybody is happy to celebrate. I think it’s going to open the door to freedom for a lot of people in surrounding states,” said Graham, who is registered to use medical marijuana in Connecticut but is hoping his state will legalize recreational cannabis.

Democratic Gov.-elect Ned Lamont of Connecticut supports legalization and hopes it will be a priority for state lawmakers next year. Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has also said she is open to legalization.

Daquaan Hamilton, a 22-year-old student at nearby University of Massachusetts-Amherst, was among the first inside NETA after beginning his wait shortly after midnight.

“There are a lot of people throughout our history who have done prison time for such minor offenses — like having weed paraphernalia, or having small amounts on them — and the fact that I can walk out of the store right now with this and not be afraid of anything that can happen to me, it’s pretty great,” Hamilton told The Boston Globe.

Customers pose with “Potsquatch” outside of New England Treatment Access in Northampton, one of two dispensaries in Massachusetts where recreational marijuana sales began Nov. 20, 2018. (The Republican via The Associated Press/Leon Nguyen)

As the first stores opened in his state, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy announced he had changed his perspective on marijuana and would now push to have the federal government legalize and regulate the drug nationally.

Kennedy said he had been skeptical of legalization in the past because of concerns that marijuana could be addictive, especially for adolescents.

“At the same time, I’ve heard from others who see marijuana quite differently. The parent whose epileptic child needs marijuana to calm her seizures. The veteran whose trauma it eases. The black teen arrested for smoking a joint while his white friends did the same with impunity,” Kennedy wrote in an opinion piece in STAT, a Boston-based health and medical publication.

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