By Jim Kinney masslive.com
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana in the 2016 election. But marijuana businesses only started opening 13 months ago, in November 2018. Jim Kinney brings us the story of Erik Williams and Meg Sanders who are working on their third location.
Erik Williams, co-founder and chief operating officer of Canna Provisions Group, looked past the sawdust and construction tools filling what will become a recreational marijuana dispensary.
"I love this space," Williams said. "I'd drive two hours to buy toilet paper here."
Williams and co-founder CEO Meg Sanders plan to sell marijuana and cannabis products from 4,000 square feet of vaulted space framed by rows of brick archways at 380 Dwight St. Once part of Holyoke’s vast paper mills, the building overlooks the city’s famous industrial canals.
The plan is to open in early 2020, pending approval from the state Cannabis Control Commission, and become the first adult-use marijuana retailer in Holyoke.
Canna has already hired its first round of the more than 40 full-time staffers and smaller number of part-timers it will need. The first 20 are training in Canna Provisions’ shop in Lee, Williams said. Jobs start at $16 an hour.
Williams said Canna Provisions is also going through the state regulatory process of buying a controlling interest in The Verb is Herb, an appointment-only marijuana retailer planned at 74 Cottage St. in Easthampton. Canna Provisions was already a minority investor.
Canna Provisions opened its shop in the Berkshires in July. State law caps each company at three retail locations, so Easthampton and Holyoke will be Canna Provisions’ limit. But the Holyoke store can’t open, and the Easthampton store can’t change hands, without state approvals expected after the first of the year.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse was an early advocate of the state’s new legalized marijuana industry and its potential to bring jobs and commerce to Holyoke. As it stands, there already is a marijuana grower in the Paper City, Rise Holdings at 28 Appleton St.
“We are totally supportive of the Mayor’s vision,” Williams said. “We want to support a marijuana industry with marijuana tourism. We want to build a situation where Holyoke is a center for cannabis in the state. Where if people are looking to come to the Commonwealth for cannabis, they think of Holyoke first.”
Canna Provisions’ space was once occupied by the Canal Gallery and a performance space called the Guilded Brick.
“This was an artists’ colony for 40 years, and we really want to honor that,” Williams said, pointing out an area where art displays will go in the finished store. His team has also saved all sorts of industrial artifacts -- giant gears, electrical switches sparkling with copper and glass insulators -- for display both inside and outside.
Williams said Canna Provisions is building its own grow operation, also in Lee, but in the meantime it is selling marijuana products it buys on the wholesale market. This is allowed under state rules.
Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana in the 2016 election. But marijuana businesses only started opening 13 months ago, in November 2018. Since then, the industry has amassed more than $393.7 million in gross sales.
As of November 2019, a total of 33 marijuana shops have opened statewide, according to the Cannabis Control Commission. Another 54 retailers with provisional or final license approval are in the process of completing the commission’s inspection and compliance procedures. In total, the commission has licensed 227 marijuana establishments, including cultivators and retail stores.
Everything cannabis retailers do is governed by state rules, Williams said, from training staff to advertising, packaging, and handling inventory and cash.
“In order to succeed in this business, you have to be comfortable in a regulated environment,” Williams said. “You need to be adept at dealing with state regulation and be able to work within that framework.”
Williams emphasized how he and Sanders want Canna Provisions to be a good retail experience, even working within the regulatory framework. The store will have an entrance area where customers will have their IDs checked. Customers must be 21 or older to proceed. Inside, customers who have made pre-orders by phone or internet can pick them up and be on their way in minutes. Other customers can meet employees at kiosks for a slower experience.
“That is where you will be able to ask questions,” Williams said. “That is where you will be able to smell flower.”
Once customers make their selections, they’ll go to another counter to pay their bills and get their product. Everything will be prepackaged and weighed ahead of time.
"Weighing out each order, that takes time," he said.
Back in 2015, investors proposed the Canal Gallery site for a $3.4 million, 26-condominium development. That never happened.
Williams pointed to new nearby businesses including a hair studio, a proposed game-themed cafe and others. Canna Provisions is not planning to go into the social-consumption business -- that is, allowing on-site use of marijuana. But Williams said he hopes some other entrepreneur could do so in the neighborhood once the state authorizes social consumption. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.