Berkshire cannabis industry watching as New York begins issuing licenses for recreational sales

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A police SUV is parked outside of signs for Theory Wellness in Great Barrington that declare it open for business.
Josh Landes

As New York begins issuing licenses for the sale of recreational marijuana, Berkshire County industry leaders are preparing for a major new market to enter the Northeast.

Despite some ongoing legal challenges throughout the state, New York’s Cannabis Control Board has begun the process of granting adult-use dispensaries licenses after recreational cannabis use was legalized in 2021. For the industry in neighboring Massachusetts, where dispensaries began selling recreational weed in 2018, it represents a significant new factor to contend with.

“First and foremost, I would start with there are already hundreds of dispensaries that are open in a legacy framework right now in New York. There's many, many, many in the Capital Region, there's many dispensaries that are open right now selling to recreational customers,” said Canna Provisions CEO Meg Sanders, a Massachusetts company with locations in Holyoke and Lee. “What we're finding is our customers that choose to continue to come to a regulated market want to know their product has been tested, want to know that there's nothing bad for them in the product, and I've had these conversations directly with our customers from New York. And they are looking for tested, tried and true products that they know exactly what's in them from a regulated market.”

Sanders is an industry veteran, entering the burgeoning Massachusetts market after establishing herself in Colorado years prior.

“It's going to be very interesting how that works out with the legacy market, because we've seen this happen- California is a really good example of it," she told WAMC. "And it makes it really challenging to be a regulated licensed operator when legacy market continues to operate outside of the license process. With regards to the products that are available here in Massachusetts, it takes years to get that type of selection available and on the shelves at regulated dispensaries. So, we're anticipating that it's going to be quite some time before not only the selection, but the price points that are available now in Massachusetts are available to New York State residents looking to purchase from a regulated, licensed dispensary.”

While the rollout of legal sales in New York is still down the road, it’ll still sting when it arrives.

“Anyone operating that area, Berkshire County – south, middle, north – will have a decrease in people coming once New York has dispensaries open," said Berkshire Roots CEO James Winokur, which has locations in Pittsfield and Boston. “So, we are thinking about that, planning for that, we have a strategy for that. But we are a little bit fortunate. Unlike other border states where this happens, one state's legal and another’s not and then a state bordering legalizes, Berkshire County is a big tourist community, a lot of second homes. We know our brand plays really well, there’ll still be people who will travel to us because of the loyalty to our brand. So, we're trying to moderate the decrease by thinking about all the people that will still come to Berkshire County for other reasons.”

Sanders agrees.

“As we come upon the holidays, I can already tell you just watching the road in front of us, which is right off of the Mass Pike, there are just a lot of customers, a lot of people coming into the Berkshires for the holidays for Thanksgiving," she told WAMC. "And it's just it's one of those things where we know that there are people that come from Albany for the day and go back home. But I think what's important is that this is a destination, we're a tourist destination, and there's over 3 million people that come here every year to stay and spend their dollars.”

Sanders says news of the impending New York recreational cannabis explosion comes as the Massachusetts market continues to tighten.

“It's super competitive," she said. "There's a lot of stores that are open in the Berkshires, from the North County all the way to South County. And what we're finding is that price compression is happening. So, customers have a much better option as far as price points now available in Massachusetts. And again, that took us several years to get here. It's not like you just start and all of a sudden, prices are super competitive. You're going to have a limited availability of products in New York, and that is going to naturally drive a higher price point. And I think overall, we're settling into a market that works for consumers as well as for businesses as long as you've run a smart business.”

“Massachusetts is very typical of what we've seen in western states who started with legalization earlier," said Winokur. "As the industry ramps up you have more cultivators, more manufacturers, more dispensaries, therefore it's easier for consumers to get to those dispensaries, and then it plateaus. And in post-COVID times, we've seen as an industry a decline. We'll see how that all shakes out over the next year or so. But macroeconomics are a big factor right now. If you were to remove those, you'd still see that ebb and flow that we've seen in other states, in Colorado and California, somewhat based on regulations in California, Washington, Oregon, where you do get to a certain saturation where there's enough dispensaries, there's enough supply in the market, and that's happened historically in every state.”

In the short term, Sanders says Berkshire recreational cannabis dispensaries don’t have much to worry about even as New York ramps up licensing.

“It takes a minute to build a market," she said. "You know, it's not like hundreds and hundreds of manufacturers and cultivators are opening at the same time, as well as dispensaries. So that's an interesting process. I think the other thing to remember, right now, trying to raise money in any industry, let alone cannabis is really difficult. So, I think funding sources are going to be tough for these businesses. And I think it's going to be an interesting rollout, which we're excited about. We love seeing freedom happen for any state. And we're super excited that New York residents will now have the option of choosing freedom every day by being able to go to one of their local dispensaries.”

As of May 2022, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission announced that the commonwealth had seen over $3 billion in adult-use marijuana sales since 2018.

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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.