East Coast’s First Legal Pot Shops Set

After Long Wait, East Coast’s First Legal Pot Shops Set to Open

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) — With its youthful vibe and diverse mix of culture, a small Massachusetts city seems a logical site for the nation’s first legal recreational cannabis earnings east of Colorado.

A second store in the town of Leicester could open at or around the same period, while dozens of other candidates that are retail await licensing approval from state regulators.

The initial openings come two full years after Massachusetts residents backed legalization, a vote hailed with a burgeoning cannabis business eager to expand its geographical base beyond the many western U.S. states where recreational marijuana is sold.

The path to legal sales has been a tedious and long one.

Massachusetts is estimated to see sales of $1.8 billion and as high as $5 billion annually, business leaders predict.

But the path to legal sales has been a tedious and long one. The original target date of Jan. 1, 2018, was almost immediately pushed back six months by the Legislature, Then the July 1 date came, and went and still no stores were cleared to open. Frustration grew among consumers and would-be companies alike.

Officials including some where legal marijuana had been approved by a vast majority of voters, kept marijuana shops away through zoning restrictions or moratoriums, or by demanding a steep cost from cannabis companies in exchange for registering host community agreements.

73 percent in Northampton gave their blessing, one of the widest margins anywhere in the state while the 2016 referendum was supported by roughly 54 percent of Massachusetts voters.

“It s counter-culture. It s like their customers are here, ” said Air Force veteran who lives in Springfield, Massachusetts, a delivery truck driver and Steve Morin. He visits Northampton regularly and described himself as an occasional marijuana user who might shop in the store when it opens.

“It will be good for tourism,” he added.

The city s bustling Caribbean sports fashionable restaurants and coffee shops, bookstores, galleries and a performing arts centre. Northampton is home to one of many schools and universities, an elite liberal arts college for women and Smith College — including the University of Massachusetts flagship campus — within a 10-mile radius of the city. Most undergrads aren’t old enough to buy marijuana legally.

“There exists a marketplace for marijuana right now in Massachusetts and it’s our job as a regulated industry to over time displace the present illegal, untaxed and untested industry with one which is controlled, regulated, taxed and tested,” said Norton Albaraez, the firm ’s director of government affairs.

A separate area within the shop will be reserved for customers.

Anticipating long lines forming when the shop first opens, NETA has worked closely with city and police officials on parking and traffic problems, and retained former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis — who became a national figure in the wake of this 2013 Boston Marathon bombings — as a security adviser, Albaraez said.

Public security isn’t a concern for Northampton inhabitants like Anthony Bernardo.

“It’s in plain view today so that I ’m glad about that,” said Bernardo, a 36-year-old professional musician, as he pushed his young son in a stroller through a city park. “For years, I ve been feeling that marijuana is no more of a threat to society than alcohol. ”

Massachusetts expects to sidestep other early pitfalls experienced in legal conditions, and most recently in Canada, after sales started last month where consumers suffered shortages and supply issues.

California, which kicked off recreational earnings on Jan. 1, remains in a challenging transition period as it tries to transform what was once a largely vast, illegal marketplace into a multibillion-dollar, controlled market.

Like Massachusetts, commercial marijuana activity has been banned by many areas of California. Initial tax collections have been well below projections and a supply chain that was shaky has customers looking at shelves in some stores.

Washington state established legal marijuana sales in mid-2014, soon after Colorado, after a lengthy scramble to permit growers, processors and stores, all of whom had to contest a gantlet of regulations ranging from what pesticides they could use to local zoning rules. Only four stores opened on the first day of sales, with customers waiting in long lines to pay exorbitant prices for bud in short supply.

One of the concerns in Massachusetts are those of medical marijuana patients, who fear they as recreational sales begin ’ ll be pushed into the back of the line as dispensaries cater to their new and lucrative customer base.

“Our concern is to have rules in place to ensure patients can access these facilities,” said development director for the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance who sits on the state ’, Michael Latulippe s cannabis board.

They’ll not be forced to wait in the same lines with recreational customers to enter the building, and A separate area within the Northampton store will be earmarked for customers enrolled in the state ’ s medical marijuana program, Albaraez said.

Medical marijuana users are exempt from paying the joint 20 percent state and local taxation on marijuana.

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