Cannabis Countdown: Inside a legal dispensary

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — By this time next year, people over the age of 21 will be able to walk into a shop and legally buy marijuana. New York is currently setting up the rules for a legal market and getting ready to hand out licenses for dispensaries.

News10NBC recently sent Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke to Massachusetts where there is already an established legal market to give us an idea of what to expect.

Lewke visited a number of dispensaries to get a feel for how they operate. First and foremost, every person who enters need to be over the age of 21 and show identification at the door. All of the dispensaries she visited had sophisticated security systems in place, many had on-site security officers and some even hired off-duty police officers to handle traffic.

As a customer, you don’t get to browse the products in a traditional sense. You work one-on-one with an employee to browse menus, pictures and/or websites and then he or she goes behind a set of locked doors to get your products.

There is no shortage of legal marijuana dispensaries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The first, NETA, opened in November of 2018 in the Western Massachusetts City of Northampton. At the time, the lines were wrapped around the building.

“You had people emailing from Ohio, you had people emailing from Florida, [saying] we’re driving up are you going to have product for us by the time we get there,” recalled Mikalya Bell, NETA’s Community Outreach manager.

Since then, 164 other dispensaries have opened across the state, eight more in Northampton alone.

“They’re investing in property, they’re hiring people, they’re creating jobs and it’s also been a great source of non-property tax revenue for the City,” said David Narkewicz, the former Mayor of Northampton.

As far as the “typical” dispensary customer, “We get a lot of different, all different walks of life that come through our door,” Bell said.

Folks like Val Rodrigues, a military vet who has some issues with pain.

“I know exactly what I’m getting here, I know exactly what it’s going to do and that’s great because someone can tell you it’s one thing and it could be something else,” he told News10NBC during a recent visit.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Commission requires full testing of all products. Dispensaries have to do it and keep records of it, inspections happen at least annually.

“We have to test all of our products through a lab, you know exactly what the dose is, there’s no question as to how much you’re actually going to consume,” Bell explained, “you can’t put anything on the shelves without a label showing the exact profile, we test for microbial and heavy metals and pesticides.”

The options for how you can partake are fairly expansive too. There’s drinks, vapes, candies, “everything from flower to pre-rolls, that seems to be traditionally what people like, that’s kind of how cannabis all started,” Bell said, “we do have edibles like nuggets or lozenges, we have tinctures which are great, especially for first-time consumers.”

And speaking of first-timers, “I think that the first time came be very nerve-wracking for some people I mean even people that have been in the industry can get intimidated going into a dispensary, it’s a whole new world, there’s so many products, they’re going to have a lot of questions,” Bell said.

That’s why all customers are directed to work with a trained employee who can walk them through the products, make recommendations depending on your wants and advise you on consumption.

One thing to keep in mind, since marijuana is not legal federally, dispensaries aren’t able to accept credit cards. They all have ATMs inside or will run your card as a debit transaction.

Pricing on products ranges depending on quantity and potency. Pre-rolled joints, for example, were $12, weed sodas were $6, a bag of marijuana fruit chews were $20 and an 1/8th oz. of flower started around $50.

On Thursday, News10NBC investigates the tax structure on legal purchases and how much its benefited cities and towns that opted into allowing dispensaries.

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