I have a friend in Dallas who, every few months, drives 10 hours to Colorado to pick up weed.
Seems excessive, I know, but he loves certain strains that are hard to find on Texas’ illicit market.
Now that Massachusetts is the one place on the East Coast where you can buy pot in a store, the state and its nascent cannabis industry are cashing in on federal prohibition, drawing scores of customers from many miles away, with similar levels of dedication as my friend.
At Theory Wellness in Great Barrington, 600 to 900 people arrive each day, nearly half from nearby New York. Many trek in from Buffalo, a five-hour drive, and lots more come from New York City, a two-and-a-half-hour drive, said CEO Brandon Pollock.
Why, I asked Pollock, are people driving so far to your store when you can have pot easily delivered in NYC?
“Product variety,” he answered. “The New York delivery services — maybe you’ll get a vape pen, but you can’t have anywhere near as extensive a menu when you’re riding a bicycle around in the black market. We have tons of products that are a draw — you can get a little flower, a pre-roll, a vaporizer, and an edible.”
He and his business partner picked the location in part because they hoped to receive lots of out-of-state customers, he said, but “it has been much busier than we possibly could’ve imagined.”
In its two and a half months open, Theory has served 38,000 customers. Of those, 17,000 were from New York and 2,000 from Connecticut, Pollock said. The customers also included people from 16 countries and 49 states — the only one missing is North Dakota.
“It shows that people all over the country, not just Massachusetts, consume cannabis,” Pollock said, “and they want to purchase it from a regulated store where they can get a safe, tested, known product.”
Theory is seeing 20 times the volume of business it did as a medical dispensary. Staff has doubled to more than 30. The lines are now about a half-hour to an hour.
The state’s cannabis retailers — there are 15, as of Saturday — have sold a total of $77 million worth of cannabis products since the first shops opened in late November. That means $15.4 million in state and local taxes.
Massachusetts’ slow rollout of pot stores has led to disappointing tax collections so far. But even with the low number of retailers, sales have soared. Sales per capita here were three times those in Washington early on, despite Washington having far more shops open — a phenomenon analysts attribute to the many out-of-state customers here.
Pollock is certain that federal legalization is coming in the next two to four years. And regardless, New York and other neighboring states are also poised to legalize soon. He knows that will bring more competition and hurt his business — Buffalo customers, of course, will buy in Buffalo instead of driving to his shop. But, he said, the new markets will present opportunities for his company to open more stores.
“It’s the future,” Pollock said. “It should be done thoughtfully, but it should be done. I believe in access for everyone.”