SALEM — City Councilor Josh Turiel needed help. It had been three decades since he smoked marijuana, and on Saturday morning, with a dozen photographers and reporters watching, he mulled his options as the ceremonial first customer of the first recreational pot store to open in Eastern Massachusetts.
“My usual thing is, I’ll go home, and after dinner, sit in a lounge chair and pour a glass of bourbon over some ice and just sit there and sip it for a few hours, just relaxing,” Turiel said, standing at the counter inside. “What would you guys go with for something like that?”
“I would go Girl Scout,” said Kate Nelson, a budtender at Alternative Therapies Group, or ATG. “It’s just a balanced, happy medium — not going to make you fall asleep, not going to give you too much of a head high.”
Turiel handed over $107 in cash, the total for his $60 Girl Scout vaporizer cartridge, a $15 1-gram prerolled joint, a vape battery, and $13.78 in taxes. He lamented that because the drug is federally illegal, he couldn’t use a credit card, but he smiled at his new white childproof-locked bag.
The store’s employees, standing along green walls and glass cases of buds, clapped and whooped. The state’s third recreational marijuana store was now open.
Outside the brick storefront, a line of 35 giddy people waited, all clutching white papers, their appointment confirmations. No one would be allowed in without that paper and a valid identification showing an age of 21 and up.
With the ceremonial purchase completed, the doors were open to the first of 600 customers who had appointments scheduled for Saturday.
Christopher Holland of Beverly was the first through the door at 9:08 a.m.
“Today’s a pretty glorious day,” said Holland, 40, who arrived at 8 a.m., an hour before his appointment.
Wearing a yellow baseball cap and a bold red ski jacket, Holland stood out in the long line of customers who stood in the parking lot.
By 10:30 a.m., the line had grown to about 70 people generally excited about their impending legal purchases as they waited in the sun on an unseasonably mild December day.
Salem police were stationed in the parking lot and in patrol SUVs around the neighborhood for fears that the place would be flooded with traffic and walk-in customers. One of the state’s first two stores, Cultivate in Leicester, had drawn well-publicized complaints by neighbors about gridlock and crowds. The other store that opened Nov. 20 was New England Treatment Access in Northampton. ATG was the first store to open in Greater Boston.
But the traffic concerns did not materialize at ATG. The plan hatched by police and store managers — which involved required appointments and shuttle buses from overflow parking lots — seemed to be working. Large signs on the roads leading to the store flashed “ATG APPMNT ONLY” and “NO WALK INS.”
“This is great, terrific, better than expected,” said Salem police Captain Conrad Prosniewski, the department spokesman, as he watched customers file from a shuttle bus. “People listened to the appointment-only and that’s why we’re not being inundated with crowds and curious onlookers.”
The store allowed in about 80 customers per hour, and expected to serve everyone who snagged the first appointments online at atgma.org within hours of the store’s Tuesday announcement that it would open for recreational sales. On Saturday, the next available appointment was nine days away.
Inside the store, budtenders stood behind cash registers waiting to serve customers. In the middle of the room, glass-enclosed green buds sat on an illuminated white shelf.
State law allows customers to buy up to 1 ounce of marijuana per day, but ATG limited recreational buyers to a quarter of an ounce of cannabis flower, to avoid running out. Customers could still buy up to an ounce of pot products, such as concentrates or vape cartridges.
The experience was nice and the location easy to get to from his nearby home, said Leland Schelde, 38, a construction worker. He said he was thrilled to use his two new vape cartridges — one to relieve his chronic neck pain and the other to get high. “It relaxes me,” he said, adding jokingly, “It’s the holidays, and I’ve got to spend it with my family.”
Chelsea Horton, 30, said she spent $90 on a cannabis oil to help her mother, who has leukemia. “The revenues are going to be amazing,” said Horton, who works in Salem’s tourism industry. She hopes the money can be used to end homelessness among veterans.
Recreational marijuana will be taxed at 17 percent by the state, and towns or cities can tax another 3 percent. The state estimated it will collect nearly $216 million in taxes in the first two years of recreational sales.
As the line grew, Mark Lord, 64, stood across the street and watched. He didn’t want to buy any products, but he felt the tax revenue will help his hometown.
“This will be good for roads, schools, upkeep on parks,” he said. “The more people, the more money the city will make.”