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Williamstown Welcomes Its First Recreational Marijuana Retailer

The first recreational marijuana retailer in northern Berkshire County opened today.

A small storefront at 238 Main Street in Williamstown made history for the area as Silver Therapeutics CFO Brendan McKee opened the doors at 10 a.m. A handful of customers were ready.

Silver Therapeutics, with its staff of around 15, is the fourth in the county since stores began to open in January.

“We reached out to many communities when we were getting started as we were trying to figure out where we wanted to be," said CEO Joshua Silver. "We knew we wanted to be in Northern Berkshires, and we were looking for a community that wanted us here as well.”

He says they found a good partner in Williamstown.

“This was a town that like most in Berkshire County strongly supported the referendum several years ago, and when the first pass to consider whether we wanted to restrict uses came up, there was a desire to zone for it, but not restrict. So we didn’t have a moratorium on it," explained town manager Jason Hoch.

He says the town’s relationship with Silver Therapeutics is straightforward.

“Well, this was interesting because we put this host community agreement in February – I was just looking this up – in February of 2018," he told WAMC. "It was early. There weren’t a lot of models yet, so we were kind of cobbling together a few best practices.”

Williamstown collects three fees from the store. One of them is a 3% sales tax that comes from everything the state taxes at the store, which then goes into an unrestricted municipal fund. Another one comes from 3% of the store’s gross annual revenue, which goes towards a restricted fund for administrative costs associated with the store.

“It’s an interesting part of this industry relative than most other industries in town," noted Hoch. "In no other place do we get a direct fee like that. We charge flat fees for liquor licenses and those sort of things, but in no other place are we a participant in the viability of the business in that way.”

The last involves Silver Therapeutics making a donation to a drug abuse nonprofit decided upon by the company, town officials, and the chief of police.

“Last fall, we took two phone calls in a week of people reporting their pot plants stolen out of their gardens. I never thought in my lifetime as a police officer we would receive a call reporting pot plants were stolen. Yeah, it’s different," laughed Williamstown Police Chief Kyle Johnson. He’s led the town’s 12 full-time officers for the past 15 years and has been on the force since 1992. Other than providing extra officers to Silver Therapeutics for the first few days of its operation and checking to make sure its security system is running, Johnson says he’s not worried.

“The measures put in place for IDs, 21 and up, at Silver Therapeutics, I don’t have any concerns," he told WAMC. "Again, they’re highly regulated and they’re going to do their job well.”

CFO McKee broke down the system customers will encounter at the store.

“Upon entry, we of course validate that you’re of age via our ID scanner. You’re then let in to the retail area, upon which you are then asked to see your ID again, so it’s essentially a double proof system," he explained. "And then we work with you guys."

The first person to legally buy recreational marijuana in Williamstown was Cynthia D. Payne.

“I’m on the boards of a lot of organizations here and I volunteer at a lot of organizations, and there’s still mixed feelings with some people," she told reporters. "They still equate it with the gateway drug to heroin kind of thing.”

The 30-year town resident opted for an edible, walking out with a $42 THC infused milk chocolate bar.

“Chocolate and THC? It’s the way to a woman’s heart,” laughed Payne.

The other stores in Silver Therapeutics’ strip mall Colonial Plaza – on Route 2 just east of town – welcome its presence.

“I think it means a lot for whole community," said Sanjay Sharma. "A lot of the tax money is going to go back to the community.”

Sharma is the owner of the Gold Leaf convenience store, Silver Therapeutics’ next door neighbor.

“More foot traffic is good for every business," he told WAMC. "We have a couple of new restaurants in this neighborhood. We opened last year, there was not a single store open besides my store. I did not even know the shop coming next door to me. So it’s looking good now.”

Silver Therapeutics is working on its own cultivation site in Orange, Massachusetts, and has plans to open dispensaries there and in Greenfield.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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