Grassachusetts: Shopping For Cannabis In Mass
Brattleboro resident Alex Beck went to Northampton for his first legal recreational cannabis purchase, and Heady Vermont cofounder Eli Harrington had a chat with him all about his experience.
You can listen to the interview here, or read the transcript below.
Eli Harrington: Question one: So, you travel to Massachusetts… Sort of set the scene and the context for your visit.
Alex Beck: Sure. So, I was coming back from my Thanksgiving break and Sunday evening, I knew I would be passing by NETA. So I called them – I flew into Bradley. That’s our closest airport down south here. I called them around 6 or 7 PM and I said “Hey, how the lines looking, can I just stop by? And they said, “You know, if you get here in the next half hour, you might get in by the time we close at 10 PM.”
Eli Harrington: Holy shit.
Alex Beck: Two plus hour long waits on the holiday weekend and I you know, I just read an article somewhere that they’ve already done something like 2.2 million dollars in sales between the North Hampton shop and the other company in Leicester.
Eli Harrington: Right, so the one- the one that you visited in Leicester, I just read this in the Boston Globe which has a cannabis section very smart…
Alex Beck: No, this was – I went to the Northampton one.
Eli Harrington: Oh okay, okay. I was going to say the Leicester one that had to have an emergency town meeting because of the logistics and the transport and the parking and the lines and all that stuff.
Alex Beck: Yeah.
Eli Harrington: So, okay, cool so you went to the NETA in Northampton. So, well I guess that’s – that’s nice that they gave you an honest appraisal.
Alex Beck: Yeah and so, I drove right by on Sunday because I did not have that two extra hours after a day travelling. The next day, it was pouring rain – of course being in the banana belt of Brattleboro – when most people were getting snow, we were you know, North Hampton was getting a ton of rain. So, I figured, what idiot in their right mind would really want to stand out in the pouring rain?
Eli Harrington: Legal purchasers of cannabis would all be way too lazy to go do that, right?
Alex Beck: Well no. I mean, I really thought about – would I wait in the rain for my favorite of any product? That’s kind of what I was saying, especially for people in that community. If there was a day people were going to decide not to wait in line, I was hoping that that was going to be the day because of the weather. And so, it’s about a 35-minute drive from where I live and the line wasn’t too bad.
Eli Harrington: Now, when you say wasn’t too bad, I mean like you know it’s a pretty unusual circumstance for any American to go up to just buy something regular and wait in line. You know, it’s not like the Soviet Union back in the days. Despite that, you know, not too bad, how many people were outside in the rain waiting to get in, and how long did you end up waiting?
Alex Beck: I was in line for about 35, 40 minutes total. And they were checking IDs, they were handing out menus, which was pretty cool. And, despite the drive in the rain, there was actually a pretty jovial crowd if you can imagine. The people behind me were local North Hampton and they kind of were thinking the same thing, that now might be a good time for us to walk down the block and check this out. The people in front of me were much farther away and I don’t recall where. You know it wasn’t too bad at all except for the rain which, you know, with a good coat was totally manageable.
Eli Harrington: And, I mean, smart. You know they’re even trying to mitigate that, clearly, pre-IDing people, giving you a menu so you have some idea of what you want when you get in there. Had you been to a dispensary before in any other legal state? I probably should have started with that.
Alex Beck: Yeah, I have gone to a few in Colorado. The major difference is of course, I went to Colorado last summer. It was pretty commonplace – the dispensaries – by then so the line was, was different. But there was also a very distinctly different feel in terms of how they presented their products. You know, so once you go in, you get you’re IDd, you go up to a kiosk. Imagine a bank teller. It was much less like your traditional retail experience where you’re looking in the glass case and you’re pointing. What they had really was this really robust, in-depth menu that they were handing out and that you could look at.
So, you could kind of, you know, if you knew what you were going for and then, you could with the salesperson – just the wealth of knowledge they had was really incredible and by the time you step up to them, you have seen pictures of all the products then, you’ll know, em if you’re a seasoned user or you are familiar with different kind of cannabis products or if you have been to a dispensary in Colorado — It was just many of the similar kinds of products you would expect. It was that very personalized thing. And there were other staff people wandering around.
I did have a few questions and, you know, you know, the like no stupid question kind of thing. The level of customer service was, was so incredible because it’s such a new retail experience. So, they knew people may be nervous, may have questions whether you’re a first-time user or just because this is the first time some people have left the black market to engage in legal cannabis use.
Eli Harrington: Right. Could even be publicly seen or could acknowledge even out loud that they use cannabis. You know, there are so many people have been shamed.
It seems like you know, you kind of mentioned the vibe in the line that there is that sort of sense and we felt this in Canada. You know, in other legal markets and again, you know you get a specific crowd who are going in the first week, people who want to see it, want to be part of the – the novelty. You know, probably not too many return customers regularly yet. What did you think of sort of the – the prices, the options? You know what were people purchasing?
Alex Beck: There were limits on how much of each different kind of form that you could buy. You know, if you were just looking for flower, you know, an eighth, was the most – 3.5 grams of any one kind of flower you could get. But they also had concentrates and tinctures and gummies and they had their own way of calculating how much can one person buy. There’s a limit. I think it’s something like 28 grams.
So, they pretty much had this running tally. There wasn’t the opportunity for anyone to, by mistake, purchase over the limit. They really had everything lined up. They said, “Okay well this, plus that, you’re at this level, this is what your bill is so far and what else are you looking for.” So they kind of stack and prioritize if there’s something you know, you’re looking for specifically.
Eli Harrington: That is– that I mean that’s really encouraging, and again you know that level of like you said sort of over overcompensating with the customer service and the information.
Obvious questions: You live in southern Vermont, you said this is about 35 minutes. You’re hanging out down in Massachusetts for a few days, for a day. You know, you get to experience this. What is this made you think of for Vermont because I gotta imagine North Hampton and Brattleboro are not that dissimilar towns and cultures. What what does that experience make you think about the viability of this in Brattleboro?
Alex Beck: Yeah, I mean I think you know I think we all know that you know that– and I hate to use the cliche but being someone who actually does work really closely with Vermont businesses, there is a Vermont way of doing certain things. So, I know that the industry will be different if we were to move to a tax and regulate in our area. I don’t think maybe even from a legislative standpoint, but I think the nature of what we do. We are super hyper local and we do love knowing where we’re getting our products from
Eli Harrington: Well so how about this? I mean as a patriotic Southern Vermonter –
Alex Beck: It sucked. You know, North Hampton just got a lot of my tax dollars that I would- I would otherwise have loved to go towards a Vermont business and my town, and all of those other things. You know, out in Exit Three in Brattleboro when they were rebuilding the bridge and seeing construction crews with license plates outside of Vermont. It’s the same kind of loss that you feel. Why aren’t our workers are the ones building our bridge, why isn’t our businesses the ones who are really benefiting from this new retail opportunity, the tax revenue.
You know how often in history of government is a truly new revenue source brought up? You know so much in Vermont, we talk okay, are we going to tax property or income. And it’s just like people you know balancing between these two things over and over again. What about looking creatively and diversifying our economy and finding new truly new, additional revenue sources rather trying to squeeze a little bit more out of here and a little bit less out of there.
Eli Harrington: One, you mentioned being down in the- in the banana parts of southern Vermont – which I love.You know in Windham County. It seems like there’s a lot more energy in Montpelier. And it seems like a lot of it is probably it’s going to take these folks seeing it with their own- with their own eyes.
So, what would you recommend? You know, do you think that we can get our our representatives and you know little little field trip from Montpelier down to North Hampton? Do you think that seeing this in person is going to dramatically change people’s opinions?
Alex Beck: You know the optimist in me wants to say yes, but the cynic in me says that there’s enough information, video, the internet, you name it out there –
Eli Harrington: [Coughs] Heady Vermont.
Alex Beck: Yeah, well exactly. I mean there are incredible cannabis specific media resources like Heady Vermont, where anyone who’s really trying to do their due diligence to understand this, they don’t need to travel to North Hampton or Colorado to do it. I think there’s always going to be the willfully and intentionally ignorant folks, and I don’t know what will move them. It’s disappointing that money will move them.
You know, Boehner, who was anti-cannabis until he realized that you can make a buck off of it. That is one way to bring people who are traditionally anti-cannabis around. But wouldn’t it be great if it was also because they don’t want to consider a significant portion of our population criminals?
Eli Harrington: Right. Is social and racial justice not enough?
Alex Beck: It would be tax revenue for the town instead of shareholder revenue.
Eli Harrington: Preach. Last question I gotta ask – what did you end up purchasing? What you see people buying?
Alex Beck: Yeah and this kind of comes back to why I think it will be a great opportunity for southern Vermont is, what we have in southern Vermont is some truly excellent local home growers who are organic, growth locally. You can develop those relationships, so that access to things like flowers through gifting and other legal means now – that’s easy relatively speaking.
But for someone who you know is always looking for healthier ways to managing anxiety and depression and all of these other bugaboos that we all have. Things like tincture and edibles are much harder to find inn safe and controlled ways. So that’s– You know, it’s really the regulatory component of what this retail environment brought was it provided access to new and different products that you know don’t really need to damage my lungs.
Eli Harrington: Right, yes smoking –
Alex Beck: And those other kinds of alternatives – that’s really what opens it up to me is that you know for someone who – You know, I enjoy drinking but I don’t drink a lot. Finding a tincture I can put in a cocktail so that I have my own opportunity to enjoy my evening the same way people who would love to a drink a six pack of beers –
It’s just different, that flexibility, that right to do as you please, that that flexibility provided. So that’s what I was excited for. I didn’t even buy any flowers because I– There are ways for me to support my local growers in doing so.
Eli Harrington: Absolutely. Well, thank you again for taking some time. I know you’re a busy man.
Alex Beck: Yeah, you too. Thanks a lot.