LEICESTER — “Hell.” “Absolute mayhem.” “Havoc.” “Ground zero.”
At an emergency meeting at Town Hall Monday night, dozens of angry residents excoriated elected officials and executives from the local marijuana store — Cultivate, one of just two currently operating on the East Coast — for failing to adequately control the hordes of cannabis consumers and curiosity-seekers who have descended on this small town outside Worcester.
Among their complaints: long lines of traffic, closed streets and detours, pedestrians trekking along a highway with no sidewalk, litter, public urination and pot consumption, overly aggressive shuttle bus drivers ferrying customers to and from a nearby parking lot, and poor communication from Cultivate.
“This has been terrible,” Dawn Gauthier, a Leicester resident who lives near Cultivate, testified at the meeting. “We have cars outside of our house seven days a week, 12 hours a day. We have no life there anymore. It’s like living in a fishbowl. . . . It’s not fair.”
Representatives of Cultivate offered to improve communication with marijuana shoppers, while officials suggested tweaks to the parking and traffic plan they had put in place. But they acknowledged that real relief will come only when the state Cannabis Control Commission authorizes more pot retailers to open and take on some of the overwhelming demand, which is expected to happen in the next month or so.
“We don’t expect this, obviously, to last forever,” Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux told residents. “There are two [retail marijuana] facilities open. Our understanding is that there will be more facilities that will be permitted and be allowed to open in the Commonwealth later on this month. At that particular point, we expect this will begin to die down.”
Genereux added that the timing of Cultivate’s opening on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a week when many people are off from work, “seemed to inflate the traffic count far more than we had expected.” Customers have waited in lines for hours to get inside Cultivate, and the company said it served about 1,000 customers on its opening day.
The Leicester pot shop — and a second store in Northampton — became the first two recreational marijuana shops in Massachusetts when they opened their doors last Tuesday morning.
Another three shops could open in the next month or so, in Wareham, Salem, and Easthampton. It will probably be months before the first shop in Boston opens.
In Leicester, with a population of about 11,000, the impact has been significant: Traffic jams, at times, were nearly a mile long, and customers said they waited two hours or more to get inside the store.
At one point in Monday’s meeting, Leicester Police Chief James Hurley suggested moving the line of cars waiting to park at the lot near Cultivate to the other side of Main Street; Gauthier, who lives on the road, shouted “no!”
“We’re trying our best,” an exasperated Hurley snapped. “I got this dropped on my lap by the Cannabis Control Commission on the busiest week of the year.” Gauthier stormed out of the room.
The commission declined to comment Monday.
Before the meeting, some local business owners complained that the traffic was hurting their sales.
Kim and John Miczek have owned and operated the Breezy Gardens farm for 39 years, just down the road from Cultivate. They said they have noticed a significant decline in their Christmas tree sales over the past week — particularly painful for a seasonal business that relies on the trees for revenue.
The road “was totally snarled,” Kim Miczek said, explaining that her business had only sold two trees the day Cultivate opened. “You couldn’t move. We just sat in here grinding our teeth.”
Representatives of Cultivate, which is paying for several police details to keep order near the shop, apologized to residents and said they had created another 40 parking spots at the nearby nursery where customers are being directed to park.
“We’re here to listen to your concerns and try to address them when and where we can,” said Robert Lally, Cultivate’s chief operating officer. “There’s a lot of outreach we’re doing every day.”
Lally noted that the company sometimes struggles to communicate with customers because social platforms such as Instagram and Facebook ban cannabis-related content, and they have deleted Cultivate’s pages.
Christian Straub, another representative of the company, admitted that the line of cars clogging Leicester’s Main Street was “maddening” and that the company was trying to do “everything possible” to alleviate it.
Before the meeting, Luis Galindo, a 44-year-old chef, was waiting outside Cultivate in a chilly downpour for a chance to buy marijuana — his third attempt after being discouraged twice before by the long lines. A resident of nearby Spencer who lives just a five-minute drive from the shop, Galindo sees both sides of the issue.
“It’s been absolute mayhem — just total hell for the people who live around here,” he said.
“But it’s just logistical issues we’re all going to have to get used to. It’s just something you’ve got to be patient with. The town might complain about it today, but give it a year and see how much all the money is helping the schools, the health department, everything — it’s going to be significant.”
Asked what the town could do to improve the situation, Galindo had a quick answer.
“That’s simple,” he said. “Nothing. The only solution is more stores.”