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Cannabis is King

In Great Barrington MA


Eons ago I used to have a friend who would drive from Northwest Connecticut to Granby to buy “guitar strings.” Of an evening we would pull into the parking lot of a shuttered bank and he would quickly and quietly purchase a bag of marijuana before driving back through the darkness to his home.

It was all very hush-hush, a criminal offense that could have cost him his career.

Fast-forward 40 years. Today, only a few miles to the north, his need for weed could be openly satisfied in the trendy community of Great Barrington which has earned a justifiable reputation as the cannabis capital of Western Massachusetts. Five boutique shops line its streets and a sixth sits just over the border in Sheffield. No stealth, no code words, no social stigma.

The legalization of recreational cannabis in Massachusetts in 2016 created a wild rollercoaster ride of opportunism in the community. Entrepreneurs have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish dispensaries—it costs between $300,000 and more than $1 million to create one—and have been rewarded with millions of dollars in profits, all while paying the town a 3 percent sales tax and another 3 percent in a controversial “community impact fee.”

The Berkshire Eagle reported in 2021 that Theory Wellness at 394 Stockbridge Road, the first of the pot shops to open, sold roughly $1 million worth of cannabis products per week in its first yea, translating to $1.62 million in community impact fees.

Other cannabis outlets followed in quick succession, swelling the “community impact” fund to more than $6 million in another year. It looked like the town had found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The fate of the community impact fund has been thrown into question of late with town leaders deciding that a second round of agreements with the dispensaries will not require payments to the fund. Studies have shown no impact to the town’s infrastructure resulting from the openings although it is argued that the effect on the region’s youth is an increased tolerance for drug use. Community action organizations have been awarded grants to counteract this.

But it appears that industry experts who predicted a solid future for the dispensaries are correct. Even legalization of recreational use in neighboring states has not challenged Massachusett’s rightful place as New England’s King of Cannabis.

As of last September Massachusetts was number three in the country for sales volume with $136 million in taxable sales in July. It followed California, the national powerhouse for cannabis sales, with an estimated $432.6 million sales every month. Michigan was number two with $254.1 million in sales.

New York and Connecticut, which were expected to affect Massachusetts’ boom market, had a relatively minor impact by late 2023. New York state dispensaries reporting only $33.4 million in sales tax revenues in the first six months cannabis was sold legally while Connecticut’s statewide numbers for recreational sales in August totaled only $14 million. Compare that to the estimated $4.5 million per month generated by Theory Wellness, only one of the Great Barrington stores, in its first year of operation.

So, what is the cachet of cannabis in the Berkshires? Could it lie in the ambience of the region, already renowned for its cultural milieu? Is it that day trippers find added value to their excursions into the already magic realm? Or is it the boutique shops themselves that transform the purchase of cannabis and its related objects into an experience akin to visiting a luxury spa?

Great Barrington’s dispensaries are as unlike the clandestine, back ally transactions of the past as it is possible to imagine. Luxe quarters are required for the premium cannabis supplied there. Famed London architect Simon Aldridge was responsible for the design of Farnworth Fine Cannabis at 126 Main Street where one can buy everything from $2 rolling papers to $2,000 diamond-encrusted necklaces.

Ambiance is at the start of the buying experience at Rebelle’s located at 783 South Main Street in a bright and sunny renovated farmhouse. Rebelle’s subtle retail design features custom terrazzo countertops that match colors from the wallpaper owner Charlotte Hanna had made in LA.

Another unique location is found at 454 Main Street where Great Barrington Dispensary was established in a 170-year-old mansion that, until recently, has been home to McTeigue and McClelland, creators of world-class jewelry. Today, the building houses a gem of a buying experience for visitors: dozens of premium organic products (at premium prices).

All of the dispensaries stress that they sell “only the best of the best,” making them some of the finest establishments in Massachusetts. Rebelle’s owner and staff try everything they sell to ensure it meets their standards and try to teach people what quality flower should smell like. Along the length of a windowsill a row of transparent jars with a magnifier on the top allow the customer to smell and examine the many varieties of weed.

All the companies have embraced related cannabis products: pre-rolled joints, edibles, topicals, tinctures, vaporizers, and most recently seltzers to capture “canna-curious” consumers who may not have tried cannabis yet. Sales of those products have grown but flower remains the top seller at many shops.

It can be bewildering for the “canna curious” to enter the shops but all have sales staff eager to help. For instance Theory Wellness, still the largest of the dispensaries in Great Barrington, is staffed by “budtenders” who have had intensive cannabis training. Customers can even get on-site consultations.

Calyx, 307 Main Street, proudly presents itself as the only 100-percent women owned cannabis boutique in Berkshire County. It is also driven by a desire to educate the populace about the uses of cannabis. It caters to people who are just getting into the world of cannabis as well as to experienced cannabis connoisseurs.

All of the dispensaries seek to establish their position as valuable additions to the community by engaging in charitable, philanthropic and social justice programs. All seek to provide premium products, grown in safe and sustainable ways, and some, like The Pass, located just south of the Great Barrington-Sheffield Town line, even grow their own. The Pass provides what it terms “farm-to-label” cannabis, with a mix of indoor, outdoor and greenhouse flower grown on site. The Pass can even test their cultivars in different grow environments to see which strains thrive where.