NORTHAMPTON, MA — Despite chilly temperatures and bouts of freezing rain, operators at New England Treatment Access (NETA) are declaring the first day of adult-use cannabis sales in Massachusetts a true success.
Customers have been steady all day, necessitating long outdoor lines that sometimes stretched multiple blocks. NETA employees did their best to keep customers dry, handing out light green ponchos to folks in line and tissues to those who made it in with wet glasses and runny noses.
Sgt. Corey Robinson, Northampton Police Department
Both police and NETA staff are prepared for a post-work rush of people who weren’t able to get in earlier to partake in the momentous day, they said. In anticipation of an influx of customers, the Northampton Police Department has been at NETA all day, helping with traffic concerns. Sgt. Corey Robinson, who had been on site since 5:30 this morning, said the poor weather likely wouldn’t end up having much of an impact. “Our current state right now—knock on wood—we haven’t had any accidents yet. Primarily, our mission today with NETA is traffic mitigation.”
Robinson said the police department has developed a positive relationship with NETA during its three years operating as a medical dispensary. “NETA has been a very upstanding business, and I don’t anticipate any underage sales,” he said.
Folks waiting in line huddled together to keep warm, appreciating complimentary hot coffee and looking through beautifully branded product catalogs and dispensary menus. They were able to watch as each customer exited the store, smiling and with purchases in hand.
The first official customer after a ceremonial purchase from Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz was town resident Daquaan Hamilton, who said he arrived outside NETA at around 12:30 that morning. He was finally able to head in to the dispensary around 8:30 a.m., after more than eight hours in line. “Now that I’m done and have walked through the warmth and can actually feel my toes? I feel on top of the world!” Hamilton exclaimed as proudly held up his purchase, a vape pen and some infused edibles.
NETA couldn’t have hoped for a better first (non-ceremonial) customer than cheery Daquaan Hamilton. pic.twitter.com/qFugj0yNmy
— Dan Adams (@Dan_Adams86) November 20, 2018
“I feel that there are a lot of people throughout history who have done prison time for such minor offenses like having weed paraphernalia or small amounts on them,” he told reporters outside. “The fact that I can walk out of this store right now with this and not be afraid of anything happening to me. It’s pretty great.”
Was it worth the wait? “Absolutely,” said Hamilton. “100%”
He’s not alone. Lauren Willis, 21, arrived from Agawam around 6:45 a.m. and settled into what she expected to be a wait of an hour or two. She said she planned to purchase cannabis tincture and kief. Asked about whether the chilly weather gave her any second thoughts about waiting in line, she replied: “It’s never too cold for marijuana!”
While the line skewed young—as well as male and white—there were some older customers in attendance. Easthampton resident Dan Russell, 70, who arrived around 8 a.m., said the wait of a couple hours didn’t bother him. “Its historic,” he said. “I like to be places history is made.” He acknowledged he’s “not a big user—I can’t remember the last time I smoked dope”—but said he picked up some flower for old time’s sake. Russell appreciated NETA’s online menu, allowing him to decide ahead of time what he would be buying.
Lynette French, NETA director of dispensary operations
Despite the excitement around adult-use cannabis sales, NETA ensured that registered medical patients knew they came first. A large sign at the front doors of the shop let medical card holders know they could skip the long line to go to their own dedicated registers. The store has also been renovated to include more registers and budtender stations to serve both patients and recreational customers.
Inside the dispensary, medical patients were being taken care of in the manner they’ve come to expect from NETA—with little to no wait time, a dedicated counter, and inventory reserved just for them. NETA’s director of dispensary operations, Lynette French, said patients will remain a priority even as adult-use sales ramp up. “Until we can get a grasp on what it’s going to look like daily, its in everyone’s best interest, and especially the patients, that we’re going low and slow with what we’re releasing so first we can make sure we’re taking care of the patients and everyone has a fair shot at access,” she said.
“Today went awesome,” French added. ” It took a second for some testing, but once we got going, we were really pleased with how many people we’ve been able to take care of today.”
Leslie Laurie, regional director for Western Massachusetts and director of patient services for NETA, said that today’s successful launch was the result of dedicated and hardworking employees. “People have worked for a really long time to make this work well,” Laurie says. “To me, it really felt like clockwork. There was even a countdown to when the mayor was about to buy his purchase and people were cheering.”
Cheers and happiness seemed to be the theme of the day in Northampton. Even folks who had been waiting in hours of icy rain left NETA with smiles.