BROOKLINE — The lines start to form each day an hour before the marijuana store opens. Young and old, in suits and shorts, the customers chat and scroll on their phones throughout the day as the crowd snakes around the parking lot.
“Am I going clubbing here?” Carolina Yong, 51, joked to her boyfriend as they inched closer to the door on a recent evening. Behind her, Deron Williams, 28, sighed and said that at Los Angeles pot shops, “we just walk in.”
Hours-long lines are the norm at New England Treatment Access, which opens at 10 a.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. weekends in Brookline. Nearly three years after voters approved legalization, it is one of the few places in Eastern Massachusetts — and the only walk-in store in Greater Boston — where people can legally buy pot.
Five months after opening for recreational sales, NETA typically draws 2,500 customers a day, making it one of the busiest cannabis stores in America. Nationwide, pot stores saw 121 customers a day on average last year, and only a handful probably received NETA’s volume, according to Arcview Market Research.
Most of Massachusetts’ 23 marijuana stores attract long queues just on weekends. In November, the tiny town of Leicester was overrun when a pot shop opened there — one of two initial shops in the state — though lines died down after some weeks.
After Leicester’s problems, Salem’s cannabis store required online appointments but soon allowed walk-ins. Now, the only shops that require reservations are in Newton and Nantucket.
In Brookline, more than half of the customers try to beat the line by ordering online in advance, but the “Reserve Ahead” customers usually still have a line, albeit a faster one.
Housed in a historic bank building, NETA is on the edge of Brookline Village, which is dotted with cafes, restaurants, and shops and surrounded by leafy residential streets.
NETA’s neighbors say the vast majority of the retailer’s customers are respectful and law-abiding, but a small portion cause trouble by littering, parking obnoxiously, and smoking weed on the streets and in parks without care for nearby children.
“I don’t think there’s anybody anywhere in Massachusetts who would want what is happening in my neighborhood to happen in their neighborhood,” said Dan Saltzman, 48, a school consultant who lives nearby.
Echoing town officials and other neighbors, Saltzman, who supported legalization, said he wished more pot stores would open in Greater Boston, as was expected by now, to reduce the burden on Brookline Village.
“If you only have one outlet to get anything, it’s going to create this type of impact,” he said. “We need some relief.”
Steven Hoffman, chairman of the state Cannabis Control Commission, said he is sympathetic to Brookline, his hometown, but his agency can’t control where or when stores open.
The state can only license businesses that have received their local government’s blessing, he said, and the towns and cities in the Boston area have moved slower in approving stores than those in other parts of the state. Cambridge, for example, has sought to promote social justice goals, sparking a political battle over who gets to open marijuana shops there.
“We are processing applications as fast as we can,” Hoffman said. “No matter how efficient we are, we can only move as fast as the cities and towns allow us to move.”
It may be months before other pot shops open nearby. One planned retailer in Dorchester and two others in Brookline have received provisional licenses, preliminary milestones in a lengthy process.
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In the meantime, Brookline officials said they’re working to address the complaints.
NETA said that its opening has been smooth and that not all of the complaints blamed on the shop may be related to the business. The company’s efforts include queuing customers in the parking lot and not on sidewalks, providing a portable toilet, placing signs around the area asking people not to smoke pot in public, hiring a police detail, and sending employees to pick up trash on nearby streets.
“We don’t think all of that litter is from our customers necessarily,” said president Amanda Rositano. “But we have resources that can help, and we can put those resources to use because we want to be a good neighbor.”
Of course, the high volume means NETA is raking in cash. Pot shop customers typically spend $45 per visit, state data show.
A sizable portion will be returned to the town through a 3 percent tax and a “community impact fee” of 3 percent of sales. NETA asked Brookline to spend some of that fee on more trash cans in the area and more police foot patrols.
Brookline collected $214,000 in taxes just from NETA’s first five weeks of operation and expects to take in $1.5 million in taxes over the first year, which is “very important revenue for us,” said town administrator Mel Kleckner. He praised NETA for being good partners and said he planned to hold a community meeting to address neighbors’ concerns.
“We were not expecting that it would be this long before there weren’t lines there,” Kleckner said. “When there’s a lot of people, those do create issues.”
Brookline police patrol the area regularly, said Lieutenant Philip Harrington. It’s true that more people are smoking pot in public now, he said, but it’s hard to know how much of that is related to the pot shop and how much is due to the fact that pot is legal now, though public consumption is not permitted and carries a $100 fine. He said he recently stopped two people in a park as they opened NETA bags.
“I was more concerned that they had scooters and they didn’t have helmets,” Harrington said. Police want to address the neighbors’ concerns, he said, but generally “we do not see this as a problem.”
The shop’s success has brought positive spillover to some other local businesses, including restaurants, said Debbie Miller, executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce.
But other businesses in and around busy Brookline Village had some complaints.
“Parking is a problem as it is; it’s just made it worse,” said Nur Kilic, owner of Serenade Chocolatier.
The pot shop’s preparations for the daily crowds begin at 6 a.m., when the first employees arrive. By then, 300 to 400 online orders that have been placed overnight await them.
One recent morning, workers in sweatshirts bobbed to upbeat pop music as they weighed marijuana buds and packaged them in little bottles.
Immediately after opening, the place became packed.
Customer Jonathan Bouffard, 35, said he drives to NETA from his home in Manchester, N.H., two to three times a week. If he has placed an online order, his wait is typically 20 to 30 minutes; the other line takes about an hour.
“I love the fact that I’m getting a clean product that’s legal,” Bouffard said. “Their flower is the best I’ve ever had.”
A 67-year-old woman who asked to be identified only by her first name, Lynette, told a staffer it was her first time buying legal cannabis, though she’s “an old weeder” who enjoys smoking pot and reading.
“I want to relax, but I don’t want to fall asleep or eat a lot,” she said. “What would you recommend?”
The budtender recommended Black Triangle Kush. She bought an eighth of an ounce.
“This is wonderful,” she said, leaving. “Only problem is that line.”
Naomi Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.