Staff had come in well before the opening to prepare for what was expected to be a big day in retail sales.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Cheers roared in the parking lot of Theory Wellness at 10 a.m. as staff held a signed reading "recreational cannabis, now open."
At that point, there were about 100 people standing in the blistering cold waiting to get through the doors. It's been more than two years since voters approved the legalization of recreational cannabis in Massachusetts and Theory became the Berkshires' first dispensary to sell the products, leading the way for an industry that has been bursting through the doors throughout the state.
"It is a huge responsibility. We are part of history. We are part of the repeal of prohibition and we are going to set the tone and example for others to come. We take that very seriously," Chief Executive Officer Brandon Pollock said.
The dispensary is the sixth in Massachusetts to sell cannabis products for recreational use. It's a number that Pollock said is just right because they were able to see what the opening weeks were like elsewhere. An hour before the dispensary opened, there were already some 40 people waiting in line outside of the door. Inside, a dozen or so employees were preparing products, loading registers, and standing outside providing snacks and copies of the menu. Heaters were placed by the line to keep people warm and coffee from the Marketplace was provided.
"We wanted to make sure we have enough coverage to address the needs of people who are coming. For us, it is really exciting knowing that a lot of these people are going to be coming as a first time to a dispensary. We feel really lucky they can come to us and join us as part of that experience," Director of Marketing Thomas Winstanley said.
Dustin Miller was one of those standing in line. He had gotten there at 8:30 in the morning, an hour and a half before opening time, to secure a place in line. But Theory isn't Miller's first visit to a dispensary. He had lived in Colorado and visited other states that had legalized the use before Massachusetts had.
"It's a big moment. I was in Colorado when they did this as well. It was a huge movement. I lived there for years and it took them a long time. It is nice to see everyone else move along," Miller said.
He welcomes this cultural change for customers, many of whom have used the products illegally for years.
"It is widely available otherwise, I think everybody knows that. This makes it just more feel-good about it. You don't have to worry about anything. It is completely legitimate. You don't have to worry about doing something wrong," Miller said.
The 35-year-old Miller is particularly supportive of the industry because of the economic development that comes with it. The state is expecting millions in tax revenue, local communities are getting a piece through local taxes and host agreements, and vacant storefronts and buildings throughout the county are being filled with companies looking to open retail, cultivation, or both. In the first week of opening last November, the first two retailers sold $2.2 million worth of products. Theory's opening for recreational sales led to quadrupling the size of the staff.
Theory was formed in 2015 and opened the 2,5000 square-foot Great Barrington location in 2017 to serve medical marijuana patients. Pollock said the dispensary saw on average of 40 to 50 people a day and that he could see traffic increasing 10fold.
"We expanded our cultivation and manufacturing facility over the summer in anticipation of this so we could increase our inventory to hopefully meet the needs," Pollock said.
The products are manufactured in Bridgewater by Theory and shipped to the Great Barrington location. Pollock said the products available through a dispensary are different from how most people think of marijuana. He said the company has spent a lot of time working with the employees to educate them on the products and the best ways to help with the customers.
"This is very new. A lot of people have experience with cannabis in one form or another but they really aren't up to speed on the different varieties that we cultivate and the different products we make. The key for us is education for our customers. We want somebody who comes in here and hasn't used cannabis before to learn anything they need to know. It has really been an education process for staff," Pollock said.
The company provides an array of job opportunities but there is also high demand. Pollock said he's received thousands of job applications.
"We have management positions, we have inventory positions, which is similar to any other inventory position where it is an attention to detail, and we have our budtenders, our customer service folks," Pollock said. "We always want people who are excited about the industry. We look for great personalities, great energy."
There were about 40 to 50 people waiting in line an hour before the dispensary was to open and that number grew as the opening time got closer.
The staff is also trained in areas of safety, security, and compliance with state laws. The state has highly regulated the industry, which is in part of why it took more than two years since the ballot measure was passed for recreational facilities to open. The state's Cannabis Control Commission is in charge of giving the OK for stores to start selling recreational.
"We think they've done a great job, a very streamlined objective process. It was a lot of paperwork, there were a lot of inspections, they want to make sure that everyone does this right. We've had no issues with that," Pollock said.
The Cannabis Control Commission wasn't in existence when Theory was given to the approvals to sell medical marijuana, but it has since been given that oversight.
Theory had been the Berkshires first medical marijuana dispensary to open and Winstanley said medical patients remain a top priority.
Theory had two points of sale units separated from the line for recreational and medical patients are able to skip ahead of the recreational line to get the products. Winstanley said the company has been making a pointed effort to get that information to medical patients who may be worried about waiting.
Friday's opening had been a long time coming for the Berkshires. It was nearly seven years ago when voters approved medical marijuana and more than 10 years since voters decriminalized the substance. In 2016, voters approved recreational sales to adults by ballot initiative. Massachusetts is one of 10 states to legalize recreational use though marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
California had been the first state to legalize its use. That's where Pollock entered the industry.
"I started working in cannabis almost six years ago consulting for a company in California called Harborside Health Center. At the time Harborside was the leading dispensary in California and was really setting a trend for legal cannabis. I learned a lot from them. I was always living on the East Coast and I wanted to bring some of what I learned in California to the East Coast. I helped launch this company in 2015," Pollock said.
Since that 2015 launch, Theory has served the medical marijuana industry solely. But that changed at 10 a.m. on Friday when the doors to the Great Barrington store were opened.
"It's the first opening for a dispensary for Theory Wellness so it is a big day for us. We've got some folks from the eastern part of the state who are coming out to join because it is exciting for the company," Winstanley said.
Temescal Wellness in Pittsfield will be the next in Berkshire County when it begins recreational sales on Tuesday and a pipeline of future shops is making its way through the permitting and approval process.
A new industry took root in the Berkshires on Friday, changing the landscape for years to come, and did so with a line of customers cheering its arrival.
Theory Wellness at 394 Stockbridge Road is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.