EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider is hosting a full-day in-person conference and networking event on September 15 at the Carteret Performing Arts Center, featuring many of the state’s top performers. Early bird tickets now on sale.
When legal weed dispensaries moved to Easthampton, Massachusetts, local officials worried about rising crime, children smoking weed and falling real estate values.
But none of the stereotypical nightmares came true.
“We haven’t seen any of these things,” said Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. âOur view of this was very influenced by our fears and something so new. It certainly influenced the ordinance. It also reflected public opinion.
Instead, the western Massachusetts city, which has a population of some 16,000, has seen its rents and income rise, along with its time commitment to setting up the dispensaries. Four have opened there so far.
âThere’s a perception of what it’s going to look like in a city, and the reality is really different,â said Steve Reilly, owner of INSA, a marijuana company that opened in Easthampton.
Massachusetts residents voted to legalize marijuana in 2016. It took two years for the first dispensaries to open, and Easthampton recorded sales for those 21 and older at the end of 2018. They were the first dispensaries open to any person 21 and over on the east coast.
New Jersey, which looks more like Massachusetts than the western states that have legalized cannabis over the past decade, hopes to open stores sooner. Industry experts have predicted sales could start at the end of this year or early 2022.
But a more pressing deadline is looming for cities and towns. They must decide by August 21 whether they will allow, limit or completely ban the sale, manufacture and cultivation of marijuana.
More than 100 cities have already passed ordinances banning the cannabis trade or have indicated they plan to do so. But many are on the fence, plagued with remaining questions.
Reilly said dispensary visits for local officials are “critical” to helping them understand the reality of the cannabis business. His company INSA has revived an old part of the city with empty mills.
âIt’s very hard to describe to someone what that looks like,â Reilly said. âIt’s very high-tech. There are a lot of things involved in this.
âThey leave with a whole different concept of what it is,â Reilly said of those who come to his property.
The company has requested the opening of a medical dispensary in Middle Township, Cape May County.
LaChapelle said the city’s fixation on the crime rate had distracted their attention from other issues. Checking and setting up the dispensary resulted in legal fees for the city that she has yet to recover. The cannabis trade has also spurred the revitalization of the city’s mill district, part of a new development that has raised housing costs.
âIt’s serious,â she said. âInitially, we didn’t have a lot of housing. We are seeing homes selling for tens of thousands of dollars from listing.
She said it brought in out-of-state travelers as well, which also boosted business in Easthampton and possibly neighboring towns.
LaChapelle said legal cannabis has helped his city avoid a budget deficit linked to COVID-19, but starting a cannabis business takes time and money. A potential dispensary has collapsed after the city invested time in talks.
âThe time we spent on these applications was immense, but there is no guarantee that they will actually be processed. “
LaChapelle said passing an ordinance is vital for cities to determine their own rules. She spoke to officials in at least one New Jersey city about best practices as a mayor who went through the process.
Partnership, as opposed to overly restrictive business practices, is what reduces illegal activity, LaChapelle said.
âIf you allow unfounded fears to influence this, you will create local barriers,â she said. âYou limit local purchases at these facilities and that enriches or encourages a gray or black market to continue. “