Though Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, the state saw its first two legal marijuana shops open on November 19th, 2018. The state first voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2012, earlier than most states and realized the opportunity that recreational marijuana provided 4 years after. Two United States military veterans received the honor of being the first customers to initiate the new, cannabis friendly, era in Massachusetts. Cultivate Holdings in Leicester, MA, and New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton, MA were the two stores to kick off the new era in the state.

One of the military veterans, David Narkewicz, is also the current mayor of Northampton. As a former member of the US Air Force, Narkewicz did not purchase an item for his own personal use, yet rather for conservation purposes of a symbolic day. Purchasing a cannabis-infused chocolate bar, Narkewicz received a large amount of cheers as he ushered in a new Massachusetts.

Legal Marijuana Massachusetts
David Narkewicz (right), Northampton Mayor, made the first purchase at NETA, kicking off a new industry in Massachusetts. Arnon Vered (left) is the co-founder of NETA.

Narkewicz is setting a great example for many other politicians, as he has encouraged the growth of the industry, while not compromising his own values. Supposedly he does not plan to indulge the cannabis chocolate bar, but even if he did, I don’t think any of his constituents would be too upset. After a round of applause, Narkewicz spoke to the public and stated,

“I’m proud that Northampton is playing a role in this historic day ending some 80 years of prohibition here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and moving into a new modern era where we have safe, tested, well-regulated adult use of marijuana and cannabis,” – David Narkewicz, Northampton Mayor, 2018

At the the other shop that opened on November 19th, Cultivate Holdings in Leicester, Stephen Mandile made the first purchase. As a US Army veteran who served in Iraq, Mandile has also been a long-time medical marijuana advocate. Not only was he thrilled to be able to be the first customer, yet he was just as excited that veterans were able to take part in such a historic day. After the purchase, Mandile stated that,

“I get to make history. It means a lot, and I never expected this would be the outcome of my advocacy — I was just trying to go about helping people. I’m pumped to break the stigma and the weird, scary aura people want to put around cannabis.” – Stephen Mandile, US Army Veteran, 2018

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Photo of Stephen Mandile (right), US Army Veteran who made the 1st purchase at Cultivate Holdings in Leicester, MA.

If you do not think that the people of Massachusetts were excited, just look at the turnout. The Leicester Police Chiefe, Jim Hurley, was surprised himself at the turnout. Originally they were expecting anywhere between 600 to 1000 people on the first day at Cultivate Holdings, but the amount of people they saw was easily more than that. According to Hurley, there were probably 300 people in line outside when he left at just 1:30 PM.

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Even on a cold Massachusetts afternoon, the line at Cultivate Holdings on opening day was wrapped around the facility.

Although the state used other states that have legalized recreational marijuana as a blueprint, Massachusetts still employed its own laws. Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission knows that the state has benefited from others as an example, but knows no process is the exact same.

“So you can’t just lift and shift from other states, but we certainly can learn lessons about things that they’ve done that worked well and things that they wish they could have done differently,” – Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2018

Massachusetts laws allow shops to sell up to one ounce of flower or five grams of concentrate in a single purchase. Public consumption and driving under the influence of marijuana are still illegal in the state. A huge difference in Massachusetts legalization, was their emphasis on diversity, a concept that other states should follow suit. Hoffman stated that MA laws stand alone,

“…not just in terms of employment in the industry but in terms of equity ownership.” That also includes a requirement to “help those communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the previous war on drugs to make sure they’re full participants, – Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2018

This emphasis on not just employment, but ownership is something that I hope will carry on to other states. Many of my people, being a young African American, have been subject to the legal system and jail time over a substance that is now being sold for recreational use. Minorities should not be left out of this industry, and people like Steven Hoffman are making strides to make sure of that. I commend Hoffman for his efforts, and hope to see changes in the trend elsewhere as well.

Article: Massachusetts Makes History as First Legal Marijuana Shops on East Coast Open Tuesday

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