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Inside What Could Be The First Retail Marijuana Shop On The East Coast

The first retail marijuana store east of the Mississippi could open soon in Northampton, Massachusetts.

It's received final approval from the state's Cannabis Control Commission, but still has to satisfy a few requirements.

New England Treatment Access has operated a medical marijuana facility in Northampton for three years and will soon start selling pot to adults out of the same location. It’s a one-story brick building near the highway.

Norton Arbelaez, the company's director of government affairs, said that to buy pot, the first stop will be a security camera right next to the main entrance.

“So you would have to show your identification to the camera,” Arbelaez said.

And it doesn't have to be a Massachusetts ID showing a person is over 21. It could be from New York or Connecticut.

It could also be “a passport from the EU or form from Argentina,” Arbelaez said. “I mean, if you're an adult with a verified identification, you can come in and purchase.”

After showing their identification, customers enter the security vestibule, a six-by-six-foot space, with an employee behind a window.

“They come in here, and there is an ID scanner that will verify the authenticity of the document,” Arbelaez said. “And then you get buzzed into the main sales floor.”

Norton Arbelaez, NETA's director of government affairs.
Credit Alden Bourne / NEPR
Norton Arbelaez, NETA's director of government affairs.
The interior of New England Treatment Access, looking toward the new retail sales stations.
Credit Peter Brown / NETA
The interior of New England Treatment Access, looking toward the new retail sales stations.

The sales floor looks more like a modern bank branch than something out of a Cheech and Chong movie. Medical marijuana patients, who don't have to pay tax, will be directed to the left. Recreational patients will be directed to the right, after being handed a menu with pictures of giant buds known in the business as "flower."

“We're looking at different strains of flower... Buddha's Sister, Golden Lemon, Walker Kush,” Arbeleaz said as he looked at a menu. “We're looking at types of concentrate, shatter, wax, distillate, pre-rolled joints.”

And if you don't want to smoke it, you can eat it.

“We have our Belgian dark chocolate bar, comes in a 50 milligram and 100 milligram variety,” Arbeleaz said. “We have brownies, of course.” You can also buy cannabis suppositories.

A page from NETA's medical marijuana menu.
Credit Alden Bourne / NEPR
A page from NETA's medical marijuana menu.

To accommodate retail customers, NETA converted some office space and added about dozen new sales stations.

John Murphy, an assistant sales manager, explained how the process will work.

“So you'll approach me,” he said. “If you're not too sure on our menu options or their general uses, we kind of do a consultation right here up at the register. We'll verify that you're valid in terms of double-checking that card, that ID. We'll find any product that you'd like, scan it in, collect your cash, and you're on your way.”

Being one of the very first retail marijuana stores on the East Coast means New England Treatment Access will need a lot of pot on hand.

“We plan on purveying products from our production facility on a daily basis,” Arbelaez said. “Over the span of a year, we'll have to produce, you know, tons of cannabis."

Arbelaez said the company must still clear a few hurdles to get the final green light from the state. He expects to be open for business before the end of October. Halloween in Northampton could be a little more interesting this year.

Copyright 2021 New England Public Media. To see more, visit New England Public Media.

The exterior of New England Treatment Access in Northampton, Mass.
Alden Bourne / NEPR
The exterior of New England Treatment Access in Northampton, Mass.

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