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Marijuana goes on sale legally, just over Mass. border

Marijuana goes on sale legally, just over Mass. border

New shops close to Capital Region come as New York state weighs legalizing drug
Marijuana goes on sale legally, just over Mass. border
New York residents can now cross the state line into Massachusetts and buy assorted marijuana products.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

GREAT BARRINGTON — Marijuana for recreational use is now legally available 3 miles from New York's eastern border.

Massachusetts is the first state on the East Coast with legal retail sales of the drug, and medical marijuana company Theory Wellness expanded into the recreational market Friday, opening a store in Great Barrington, a 60-minute drive from New York State Thruway Exit 24. 

Recreational pot shops recently opened in Easthampton and Northampton, which can be reached with about an hour-and-a-half drive from Exit 24, and one is set to open Tuesday in Pittsfield, a 60-minute drive.

News coverage has shown long lines outside the still-new Northampton pot shop, including some New Yorkers looking for a legal high. The scene was repeated Friday in Great Barrington, according to a Theory Wellness employee. The line held steady at 75 to 100 customers through the morning and into the afternoon, and the company set up two gas-fired heaters for them in the bitter cold. 

Many vehicles in the parking lot had Connecticut license plates, he said, and even more had New York plates.

There’s no residency requirement to buy recreational marijuana in the Bay State. Buyers need only have a means to pay for their pot and proof that they are at least 21.

New York State Police will not be looking specifically for New Yorkers crossing back into New York with marijuana, spokesman Beau Duffy said Thursday, but neither will they look the other way if they happen upon a stash in the course of an unrelated matter.

“We’re still enforcing the marijuana laws of New York as they’re written,” he said. 

Elsewhere in New York, there has been some change in enforcement in recent months:

  • The state’s largest police agency, the New York Police Department, shifted its approach to low-level offenders this summer, ticketing rather than arresting those caught smoking marijuana in public. 
  • The Albany County District Attorney’s Office announced in November it would stop prosecuting most possession cases involving 2 ounces of marijuana or less.
  • Most significantly, there is a renewed push since the November election to legalize recreational marijuana sale and use in New York state.

Unless and until that happens, possession in New York of up to 25 grams is a violation — the lowest category of offense, on the same level as loitering. Possession of up to 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor, as is prostitution. 

In Massachusetts, by comparison, possession of up to 1 ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana is now legal. 

New York buyers must decide for themselves how to navigate the legal hurdles between New York and Massachusetts: It is illegal to smoke in public or in a car in Massachusetts and illegal to possess in New York.

But for those who figure it out, Theory Wellness’ “Strawberry Fields” marijuana is $15 a gram, or $45 for an eighth-ounce, $80 for a quarter-ounce and $150 for a half-ounce.

Mimosa, Banana Split, Blue Dream, Wedding Cake, Sunshine Daydream and Purple Punch marijuana varieties are more expensive, at $20 a gram.

Theory Wellness markets itself as a craft marijuana producer, CEO Brandon Pollock told The Daily Gazette on Thursday. It fine-tunes varieties with different concentrations and ratios of active ingredients that produce pain relief in medical patients or a psychological high in recreational users. The business then grows and processes those varieties by hand.

“We’re constantly searching for new genetics,” Pollock said. He compared the work to heirloom tomatoes: Each variety of marijuana has its own appearance, aroma and effect on the user.

He thinks Great Barrington will become a hub for the cannabis culture in that part of the state. 

“In general, the Berkshires here in western Massachusetts are known for the arts and a liberal community,” he said.

Theory Wellness followed a path that at least some New York medical marijuana producers would like to follow: Use the same equipment, facilities and knowledge gained producing medical marijuana to launch a legal recreational business.

“We launched our company in 2015 as a medical cannabis company here in Massachusetts,” Pollock said. 

Wellness Theory has turned an operational profit in the medical market, he added, though the profits were plowed back into the business as it prepared to expand into the recreational market.

This is where the two states diverge: Vireo Health of New York told The Daily Gazette last week that it -- and most other New York medical marijuana producers -- have not been profitable because of the high cost of production and low volume of sales in the three years since medical marijuana was legalized in New York.

Pollock said he did not know enough about New York regulations to comment on why they might be problematic, but he said Massachusetts has a system that has worked well for patients and producers alike. 

A key difference may be that more products are legal for the medical market in Massachusetts, including "dried flower," the dried plant matter that many users seem to want. In New York, that form of the plant is illegal, so producers must incur the cost of processing a large crop down to a small amount of extract, then pass those costs along to the patient.

With recreational marijuana, Massachusetts has made the free market -- and local elected officials -- the only limit on the number of pot shops.

“We’re very excited ... the repeal of cannabis (laws) is happening in real time, and we’re happy to be part of it,” Pollock said.

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