Western Massachusetts Apprehensive of Big Cannabis

The practice of big businesses purchasing smaller businesses is not a negative or a foreign concept. However, citizens of Northampton, MA have been displaying signs of concern regarding the future of cannabis since the announcement that New England Treatment Access (or NETA) has been purchased by Atlanta, GA based company, Surterra Wellness.

New England Treatment Access was the first company to open cannabis dispensaries in western Massachusetts, as well as the Boston Metro Area (Brookline). On November 20th, 2018, locals of Northampton and the surrounding Five College Area lined up at NETA’s doors, waiting to be among the first people to legally purchase cannabis in Massachusetts. People were excited to finally be able to be a part of the slow-but-soon(ish)-to-be national legalization of cannabis and were even more excited to know that some of the first licenses were granted in their vibrant and densely populated community.

Western Massachusetts, with towns including Northampton, Amherst, Sunderland, and Granby, is focused on a sense of self-reliance, sustainability, and humility. The land is fertile with deep roots in agriculture and is home to those who know it is their duty to preserve the historic beauty and functionality of the area. To put it bluntly, western Massachusetts loves organic produce, local business, the arts, and harbors a plethora of cannabis enthusiasts (check out Extravaganja, a WMASS festival dedicated to cannabis and organized by the UMass Cannabis Reform Coalition).  It is understandable that residents of Northampton are experiencing a sense of doom when they hear that a national cannabis company will be taking over their Massachusetts based dispensary, within two months of the doors opening!

Some residents are saying they look forward to the financial benefits that bringing big business into the area can generate, but others are in fear of having the familiar cannabis culture muted and morphed into a more corporate identity. Concerns have arisen regarding the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and solvents, and how these contaminants affect the consumer. What was once a radical movement led by those desperate for alternative healthcare and a break from pharmaceutical treatment, is leaving patients concerned that their wellness will be pushed to the back-burner while recreational cannabis becomes the focal point of the industry. Resident of Greenfield, Patrick Wynne, stated the following regarding the rise of corporate cannabis companies,

These products have always shown that they value profits over quality, and this is concerning due to the implications it holds about the future of patient care and well-being in the medical market, as well as just general quality standards for the public not being met. I also think the current legislation has followed along with a common problem in all of Massachusetts legislating, which is a lack of concern or consideration to the western and southern and more remote areas of the state and main-focus on the commonwealth areas like Boston and surrounding towns. Companies like this are being given opportunities to buy in or set up before small farmers and coops have the chance to stake claim to it and better our local economy.”

This industry is so young and volatile, and apprehension is a fair assessment. Similar concerns were raised after the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado, and some of them did come to fruition but have since been corrected during the journey of this growing industry- remember myclobutanil? This industry is forever fixing itself and adjusting to new research and regulation. Having an entire department dedicated to keeping a business in compliance with current regulations is not often realistic for smaller companies due to how expensive it can be. In this industry, cost does not always equate to efficiency. Companies either learn and adapt, or don’t, regardless of their size and capital. It will be a challenge, but the smaller mom-n-pop shops can survive amongst the canna-giants. As of now, residents can make their best efforts to be informed consumers and involved citizens, which will continue to push the western Massachusetts cannabis industry in the right direction.