Recreational marijuana is now legally for sale in Massachusetts. The state's first two recreational pot shops opened Tuesday to long lines of eager customers.
Iraq war vet and medical marijuana advocate Stephen Mandile was chosen by the Cultivate dispensary to be the first to legally buy marijuana without a medical card.
“We’re breaking the stigma today,” Mandile said. “The old aura around cannabis being something scary and dangerous and evil.”
A cheer went up from the line when Mandile completed his historic purchase of some cannabis flower and a pre-rolled joint. Mandile emphasized that he and his friends are veterans, breaking the stigma that pot is just for low-energy stoners.
“We’re going to work our hardest to make sure this is a huge benefit for everybody,” 25-year-old Sam Barber, the president of Cultivate, told the crowd. “Let’s make this positive, and I think people are going to change their mind about cannabis.”
When customer Jon Yvon came in, the excitement of the scene reinforced something he's been thinking: This is a business opportunity.
"I think I'm going to be a part of it, in some way or form,” he said. “You see all these people walking in. I consider myself an entrepreneur. This is, ‘Go green to get green.’"
It's not actually all green anymore. The cannabis products at Cultivate come in many more forms than just your old fashioned joints, although that remains the biggest seller. A pre-rolled one costs $15, or customers can get an eighth of an ounce for $50.
In addition to the usual edibles like brownies and gummies, there are drinks and lotions and other infused products. There is a range of more concentrated forms of the drug, with much higher potency. The psychoactive compound in marijuana, THC, also can be inhaled through a vaporizer.
"It's a great day, a historic day, too long in coming," said Will Luzier, who led the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. "We need to get the rest of them open."
Another dispensary simultaneously opened in the Western Massachusetts college town of Northampton, this one operated by the New England Treatment Access (NETA). The city's mayor, David Narkewicz, also a veteran, made the first purchase.
Also Tuesday, the Cannabis Control Commission approved final licenses for two new recreational shops, in Salem and Easthampton. Wareham already has its license in hand. But it's not clear when those shops will receive their final inspections before opening. Dozens more adult-use marijuana shops are working their way through the state approval process.
For Cultivate customer Brittani Beeso, the price tags were a bit of a surprise.
“I didn’t know the tax was going to be 24 percent or whatever," she said. "But I’m going to do it anyway. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, so I’m excited.”
There's a standard 20 percent tax on all recreational pot in Massachusetts. Seventeen percent of that goes to the state, and three percent goes to the city or town. And at Cultivate, on top of that, there's another three percent tax for Leicester as part of a host community agreement.
Outside the dispensary was a heated tent with a DJ, but only a small fraction of the crowd could fit. A line of hundreds of customers ran down the street.
Leicester Police Chief Jim Hurley said he's been in law enforcement for 38 years, and he has seen a huge shift in how officers deal with marijuana. Now that marijuana has been legalized, on this day his job was to get everybody in and out of the facility safely. He said people driving under the influence was a huge concern.
"The criminal law and the cannabis law need to catch up with each other,” he said. “They don't mesh right now. Law enforcement is behind because we don't have a scientific test that can tell us whether a person is under the influence of narcotics. So that needs to be addressed quickly."
Matt Panaia of Shrewsbury was close to last in line, but said he didn't mind the cold, wet conditions.
"You know, I've been doing this since, what 1982?" he said. "So I can stand in the cold rain and snow to get some legal weed. ... Now I'm not a criminal anymore. So, [that] feels good."