A block from the capitol, this nondescript storefront looks as enticing as a dentist office. Shoppers pass without a glance. Inside, a woman in a window checks IDs. Then she invites you into a stylish inner chamber, where three smiling salespeople stand behind a marble bar.
A man, about 60, listens to the medicinal properties of different strains of marijuana. He pays $18 for a bag and walks out, his wife in tow.
It’s just a normal day at Good Chemistry, the company that intends to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Boston and Worcester. What’s owner Matt Huron most looking forward to in Massachusetts? Believe it or not: stricter regulations.
“We want regulation,” he says.
In the pot business, the more regulated you are by a state, the more certainty you have that the federal government will leave you alone.
But the story of this company doesn’t start in Denver. It begins on a farm in Colchester, Conn., where Matt’s father, James Huron, grew up.
For years, Matt’s father did everything that was expected of him. He aced college at Holy Cross in Worcester, married, had two kids, and became a lawyer. But eventually, he had to admit to himself — and the world — that he was gay, and that he hated practicing law. He divorced and moved to San Francisco, where he drove a cab.
When Matt was in the fourth grade, he moved in with his dad. Later, his father’s boyfriend, Elmar Lins, came to live with them.
Those were happy years. Elmar and his father threw wonderful dinner parties. Elmar packed Matt’s lunches for school. When Matt backpacked across Europe, he stayed with Elmar’s sister in Austria, and eventually opened a cocktail bar there.
But this was the era of AIDS in San Francisco. His father’s friends began dying. Then Elmar tested positive. Matt’s dad began to grow marijuana in their bedroom to ease Elmar’s pain.
Matt returned from Austria and helped his dad. They learned to grow through trial and error, losing an entire crop to spider mites. They registered as the Elmar Lins Compassion Co-Op, which supplied marijuana to Elmar and other AIDS patients. Some were too sick to smoke, so Matt hired Jaime Lewis, an ambitious local chef, to bake marijuana-laden chocolate treats.
But they had a problem: Even though California law said medical marijuana was legal, the state didn’t spell out the rules. Nobody was sure what was and wasn’t legal. Not even the cops. Police once shredded Matt’s plants and his patient documentation, but didn’t arrest anyone.
That, along with the fear of being raided by federal agents with machine guns, made Matt want out of the business. After his father died of AIDS in 2009, he considered law school.
But a friend urged him to come to Colorado. State officials there were finally crafting policies for a medical marijuana industry that had grown up as haphazardly as California’s.
Eager for regulations — and the implicit protections they provide — Matt and Jaime moved to Denver.
They helped Colorado develop its Marijuana Inventory Tracking System. Jaime chairs the local Cannabis Business Alliance. Last month, after pot was legalized, they paid more than $50,000 in taxes.
Now they have growing down to a science. In an unmarked warehouse, a humidifier wafts vapor over baby plants. Nearby, 732 marijuana plants stand in neat rows, a jungle trapped in a laboratory. Plastic tags with barcodes stick out of their roots, so that each plant can be tracked.
Good Chemistry is a success here. But in their endless quest for greater legitimacy, Matt and Jaime could not resist the lure of still more regulation. Massachusetts, the Valhalla of red tape and bureaucracy, beckoned. The thought of being in a state that makes rules from the very beginning, not as an afterthought, was too exciting to pass up.
In the weeks after the vote passed here, Matt spent hours crafting memos to Massachusetts authorities about the mistakes of California and Colorado.
He and Jaime scoped out Worcester, staying with Matt’s aunt, uncle, and grandmother. The family — in fact, the entire city — welcomed them.
But Boston proved far tougher. In Worcester, getting a landlord to sign a lease was a breeze. In Boston, it required a miracle. Worcester passed zoning rules for dispensaries. Boston is sending dispensaries through the gauntlet of the zoning board of appeals. The Worcester mayor and city council wrote letters of non-opposition. Boston’s mayor and city council refused. (The closest they got was a letter of non-opposition from Councilor Steve Murphy that backfired after he complained that they failed to inform him of plans to open on Boylston Street.)
Then came accusations in the news that their application falsely claimed to have local support in Boston. Jaime says she mistakenly placed a bullet point meant for the “Worcester section” into the “Boston section.” It was one phrase in 139 pages of narrative. But it it fanned outrage and panic.
“Negative press is hard on the soul,” Jaime says.
Why would a pot salesman leave laid-back Denver for the Back Bay, where the permitting process for anything — let alone marijuana — resembles the seven circles of Hell? Because if regulations are what you crave, it just doesn’t get better than Boston.Farah Stockman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @fstockman.