It’s been two weeks since the state’s first two marijuana shops opened up to huge crowds, and those shops are still the only places in Massachusetts to buy marijuana legally. But three more shops could open at any time, and the leaders in those communities are taking lessons from what happened in Leicester and Northampton.
“We had a decent traffic plan that was good,” said Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. “Then we saw the lines at [the New England Treatment Access shop in neighboring Northampton]. The other night, I was out at night at 9 o’clock, and there was still an amazing line.”
LaChapelle said managers at INSA, the company on the cusp of opening a retail shop in Easthampton, also saw those lines and called her to talk about traffic and parking plans.
“What we thought was okay, maybe it's not," LaChapelle said. "What do we need for special details? What are alternative ways out of the parking area, entrance into the facility?”
The state Cannabis Control Commission has given final approval to shops in Easthampton, Wareham and Salem, but hasn’t yet given the final-final thumbs up for them to open their doors. They’re expected to begin sales in the coming weeks.
And while they try to figure out how to handle all those people, the communities are also plotting what to do with all the money expected to result from the sales. In just the first five days of operation, those initial two shops had gross sales of $2.2 million.
“That is just an amazing figure to me,” LaChapelle said.
All marijuana sales include a 3 percent sales tax that goes to the local community’s budget.
“I feel more confident when I'm looking at my forecasting, and I'm looking at the projections for free cash, and what we're putting in the stabilization [fund], and how we are going to take care of our seniors and veterans,” LaChapelle said. “You know, how we're going to meet our obligations to our employees’ health care. This gives me a little bit of confidence.”
In Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll points out that her city hosted the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary.
“This is a little different fish,” she said. “So it is nice to in this case have the example of some of the challenges the other stores have faced, and we're planning for and trying to be as ready as we can.”
Driscoll expects the Salem shop to open before Christmas. Like Easthampton, she said they’re reevaluating their traffic and parking plan. But as a national gathering place every Halloween, Salem knows something about big crowds.
“We'll definitely know how to pull out the playbook in terms of managing people getting here,” she said.
Driscoll points out that Salem may get slammed, since unlike the shops that are already open, they’re only 15 miles north of Boston.
“So we think this might be a larger draw than some of the places that are a little more rurally situated,” she said.
Of course, those huge crowds, and the money they bring in, are likely to slim down once more shops open up.
In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh, who was an opponent of legalization,is notably less enthusiastic as the city plans for shops opening there, probably early next year.
“We have to figure out now about driving while impaired, and the law did not touch that,” Walsh said. “And what do we do with people who have drug policies at work and they’re smoking it legally? We have people smoking pot in parks. We can't stop it. We can give a ticket, a violation. So there are a lot of concerns ... out there.”
Even though Walsh really isn’t looking forward to marijuana sales in his city, he said when it does happen, he hopes more than one shop opens that day. That way, at least not everybody will be going to the same one place.