The likely legalization of recreational marijuana in New York and Connecticut in 2021 has the Berkshire County cannabis industry bracing for a sea change.
Even before neighboring state legislatures near legalization, 2020 has been enough of a gut check for the weed purveyors of Western Massachusetts already.
“We’ve had a tough year," said Theory Wellness CEO Brandon Pollock. "However, we have recovered, we've gotten our feet under ourselves again, in the last, you know, a few months, especially after we reopened up our adult use stores have been really great for us as a business and as a community partner, where we've been able to serve our customers safely, and provide them with legal cannabis. So it's certainly been a roller coaster, but we're feeling really good where we are right now.”
Pollock opened his Great Barrington dispensary to recreational sales in 2019, bringing in millions.
“We were the first store in Berkshire County," he told WAMC. "Now we have, who knows, maybe a dozen, if not more stores in Berkshire County. So being in cannabis, you have to be prepared for and expect change. So we really look forward to new markets opening up and it's something that we would probably look at, to open stores in those markets to kind of offset any sales that may decrease do some customers who travel to our stores staying closer to home.”
Theory Wellness has already expanded to a recreational location in Chicopee, a medical dispensary in Bridgewater and two recreational stores in Maine. Pollock doesn’t expect recreational sales to begin in New York and Connecticut for several years, and noted that more regional competition could be good for consumers.
“I think we hope and our customers certainly hope and expect as well, that we're going to start seeing more competition on pricing," he said. "Right now in Massachusetts, we have way more demand than supply, which is causing pricing to be much higher than in some mature markets like Colorado or Oregon. So I think as new markets open up and more cultivation capacity comes online in New England and New York, you'll start to see prices go down, which should be great for the customer.”
He says diversifying will be the name of the game moving forward.
“We are in the process of launching an infused seltzer, which will be a direct alternative to alcohol," said Pollock. "So I think as the industry evolves, we're going to start seeing interesting products be developed and just add more variety for our customers.”
“It's not just a slinging weed across a counter anymore, persons are looking for education and experience," COO Erik Williams of Lee’s Canna Provisions. "And good retailers like us are going to do just fine.”
He sees competition as a way to hone his business’s strengths.
“In any market, cannabis included, there's different products that are going to hit it," said Williams. "And, you know, where does any company want to fall on that? You know, do they want to be the McDonald's of cannabis? Or do they want to be a more trusted retailer that's holding only, you know, higher end brands, or, you know, really rare products that are out there locally sourced.”
Canna Provisions also has locations in Easthampton and Holyoke. Williams says it’s not clear what kind of competition the Western Massachusetts industry faces from New York and Connecticut yet.
“I'll point to just the fact that the medical marijuana program in New York does not allow flower, does not allow combustion," he noted. "If that's something that's, you know, happens in adult use, that's going to really change the way that we compete. Are they going to have higher milligram limits?”
CEO Meg Sanders – a veteran of the Colorado recreational market – says that the perennial draw of the Berkshires arts and culture industry offers a constant flow of customers to the region’s cannabis retailers.
“The other thing is we just have such a phenomenal location 300 yards off of the Mass Pike right across from McDonald's and next door to Dunkin Donuts," she told WAMC. "I mean that real estate is one of the prime retail locations in Massachusetts, not just in cannabis, but anyone would do very well there as long as they have products to sell and are able to get that message out to their customers. The other thing that I do want to point out is there are several dispensaries already existing in Albany, New York right this moment. And we continue to pull customers who want to come and spend the weekend in the Berkshires. And when they do that, they come and they buy cannabis.”