ALBANY — The Capital Region is proving to be the biggest source of customers for the closest marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts.
Canna Provisions, which opened shop in early July in Lee, said in mid-November that sales data show New Yorkers are continuing to cross the state border in droves to buy legal high-quality marijuana for recreational use.
Other dispensaries in the western part of the Bay State noted the same trend early this year, after Massachusetts legalized sale of marijuana to adults who want to get high.
There is no requirement that marijuana buyers live in Massachusetts, but they must provide a driver’s license or other proof of age — their residency is easy to tabulate this way.
Canna Provisions said the top hometowns for customers in the first four months at its Lee dispensary, ranked by value of sales, were:
- Albany, $50,578
- Schenectady, $32,727
- Lee, $26,637
- Manhattan, $25,448
- Pittsfield, $21,898
- Troy, $18,977
- Brooklyn, $16,320
- Clifton Park, $13,343
- Delmar, $12,138
- Lenox, $11,335
The ever-helpful route-mapping function of Google Maps indicates Canna Provisions is a 56-mile, 49-minute drive from the crossroads of the Capital Region, Thruway Exit 24/Northway Exit 1. Also operating close to the New York border: Temescal Wellness in Pittsfield (52 minutes away), Theory Wellness in Great Barrington (61), Berkshire Roots in Pittsfield (65) and Silver Therapeautics in Williamstown (69).
When it opened in early 2019, Theory Wellness said it was seeing a surge of New Yorkers walking through its doors. More-distant dispensaries along the Interstate 91 corridor in Massachusetts saw similar results before Theory opened.
An undated image of Canna Provisions in Lee, Massachusetts.
How much longer New Yorkers must cross the state line to legally buy a bag of weed remains to be seen.
Marijuana extracts are legally sold in New York for medical purposes but the plant itself — and anything containing its psychoactive ingredient, THC — remains illegal for recreational sale or use here.
After a strong start early this year, a drive by the Democrats who control New York state government to legalize recreational marijuana sales stalled by the end of the 2019 legislative session in June.
The 2020 budget season begins Jan. 8.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s position has evolved on marijuana during his nine years in office. He initially opposed its legalization even for therapeutic medical use, then supported medical use with significant restrictions, then moved to ease some of those restrictions.
After the 2018 elections, in which Democrats secured full control of the state Legislature, Cuomo issued a 20-point progressive agenda, one piece of which was legalization of recreational marijuana.
While possession of small amounts of marijuana was all but decriminalized earlier this year, reduced to a violation-level offense, the move stopped short of full legalization.
A spokesman this past week said Cuomo remains in favor of legalization.
Recognizing the large amount of cross-border marijuana traffic taking place by otherwise law-abding residents, Cuomo and the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania met in mid-October to explore the idea of a common approach to regulation. (A joint approach, if you will.)
Also present were legislative leaders from New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
By the end of the summit, they’d agreed on core principles surrounding market regulation, public health, public safety and law enforcement, as well as best practices surrounding vaping, due to its emergence as a public health threat.
These were not solutions or a policy, however — only a list of the objections and concerns that have been raised, ranging from lack of a reliable test for driver impairment to restorative justice for minority communities disproportionately impacted by past marijuana policies.
Solutions to these issues await legislative action.
State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, a staunch foe of legalized recreational marijuana sales, said he expects legalization to happen in New York, given the Democratic control of state government, though as a Republican, he has limited insight or input on the process. He suspects the biggest debate will not be whether to legalize marijuana, but rather, how much to tax it and how to earmark that revenue.
“That will be the holdup, I think, where the money goes,” he said.
Tedisco called the marijuana legalization drive one more form of social experimentation being pursued by Democrats who were frustrated for decades by Republican control of the state Senate. This ranges right up to legalized prostitution, he said, referring to legislation that was proposed earlier this year but never got out of committee.
State Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said he doesn’t know exactly why legalization stalled in the previous session, but he expects it will be back before the Assembly. He’ll support it.
“The logic of the people who are claiming that marijuana isn’t good for people, I agree with that.” Effectively decriminalizing possession while keeping sales illegal “leaves the product in the hands of organized crime.”
Steck added: “I don’t feel that we’ve accomplished anything by keeping it illegal. I think we’ve accomplished the opposite of what we want to accomplish.”
One thing that will not come as a result of legalization is a large new source of tax dollars, Steck predicted.
The state will need to boost spending on regulation and spend money on educational efforts against marijuana use which, if successful, will cut tax revenue. Plus, as California has discovered, too high a tax rate will drive buyers to unregulated illegal sales.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any great revenue stream from this,” he said.