On Nov. 20, more than two years after Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana for adults, cannabis finally went on sale in licensed dispensaries — two licensed dispensaries, to be exact, as retail capacity remains restricted by onerous state rules and leery or otherwise outright prohibition-minded local lawmakers who decided their respectable towns would be better off without any darn weed-heads around.
For New England Treatment Access in Northampton, a liberal-minded college town in the Pioneer Valley’s Knowledge Corridor, and Cultivate in Leicester, a town situated in the more working-class Worcester County, the rest of the state’s loss was their gain. An extremely significant, ridiculously lucrative, traffic chaos-causing gain.
Through five days, sales at the two dispensaries exceeded $2.2 million, according to figures released last week by the state Cannabis Control Commission. As per the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the average customer spent about $40 and bought either three or four items — we’re guessing a pre-roll, a low-THC edible, and maybe a gram or two of bud. In other words, Massachusetts and its consumers are getting into the game cautiously and deliberately, but in a way that is still swamping dispensaries and filling municipal coffers with tax money.
But while these early sales may seem astronomical, it’s important to put these early numbers into context. Though no statistician would declare the first five days at just two retail locations to be an irrefutable basis for this kind of conclusion, the sales numbers from these five days put Massachusetts on track to record $160 million in sales over a yearlong period. And $160 million in sales is not far off from what dispensaries in Colorado, which has 5.6 million people compared to Massachusetts’s 6.86 million, sell in about a month. Colorado dispensaries sold through $1.5 billion worth of marijuana last year and cracked the $1 billion mark this year by August.
In this way, the figures from Massachusetts could be seen as disappointing. But that would be a failed analysis. It took Colorado years to build up towards that enormous, humming green machine — and Colorado also has many, many more dispensaries than the two in Massachusetts.
Any way you dice it, selling $2.2 million worth of weed at just two relatively isolated, rural locations is stupefying. And it’s worth it to bear in mind that neither dispensary is in what you could call a densely-populated urban center, like the first dispensaries that opened for business in other legalized states. Northampton is well-known as a hub for liberal arts and the LGBTQ community but has under 30,000 full-time residents, and Leicester is a town of little more than 10,000 people, more than an hour’s drive from Boston.
Since anyone in New England, from Boston to Bangor, had but two options to buy legal marijuana in a store without a medical marijuana recommendation, this is proof that there is considerable pent-up demand throughout the region.
According to news reports, Cultivate has been averaging about 1,000 customers a day, creating so much traffic that alarmed locals held an emergency meeting last week to figure out how to handle the crowds. But luckily, according to news reports, Black Friday-sized crowds eager to fork over money were the only negatives, with no reports of any deal-crazed, Black Friday-style violence.
It’s easy to imagine how many would-be marijuana consumers didn’t want to bother with the drive or the train ride, and how many more did hazard the drive, took one look at the line, and immediately called their relieved dealer. These dramatic examples of marijuana-induced congestion also serves as a cautionary tale for prohibitionists in other states watching Massachusetts and wondering what to do.
In Michigan, where recreational marijuana was legalized this past Election Day, dozens of cities and towns are following the lead of Northampton and Leicester’s neighbors in deciding retail marijuana isn’t for them, which in turn guarantees that the Northamptons and Leicesters of Michigan will be swamped with marijuana customers and marijuana tax money.