Great Barrington medical pot shop receives provisional license to sell recreational marijuana

Great Barrington —An existing medical marijuana outlet in Great Barrington will likely be selling recreational weed before the end of the year.

Theory Wellness, which opened its doors last year as Berkshire County’s first medical pot dispensary, received a vote of confidence, as the state Cannabis Control Commission met on Thursday (October 18) and voted to give the company a provisional license. Click here to read the CCC’s assessment of Theory’s application.

Brandon Pollock, founder of Theory Wellness, addressing Great Barrington Selectboard during initial permit application. Photo: Terry Cowgill

In an interview earlier this week, Theory CEO Brandon Pollock said his goal is to be open within six to eight weeks but realistically, before the end of the year. For one thing, there is still lots more forms, applications and letters to be completed.

“We have a pretty good idea of what’s ahead of us,” Pollock said. “Two more in-person inspections, lots of paperwork — that kind of thing.”

It’s hard to imagine what a recreational pot shop will look like since none of them has officially opened for business yet, even though adult-use (as recreational is known in the trade) was legalized in Massachusetts through a 2016 ballot initiative. Medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2012 through the same ballot initiative process.

In this case, it’s not so difficult to imagine since Theory has already opened its medical marijuana establishment on Stockbridge Road. Still, Pollock said state regulations require stores selling both types of weed to separate the two businesses — both virtually and physically.

Virtually, in the sense that there are different regulations governing the products in the two programs. For example, there are limits to how much THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can be present in edibles. There are no such limits in the medical marijuana program.

And existing medical marijuana patients will notice a difference when they enter Theory and any other store that sells both medical and adult-use. There will be separate lines and check-out facilities for both. A rope and stanchion, similar to the kind one would see in a bank, will separate the queues.

Brandon Pollock, left, consults with Nick Friedman, right, as each step of procuring medicinal marijuana is followed at Theory Wellness on the dispensary’s first day open for business. Photo: Hannah Van Sickle

This is an important distinction because not only does a customer need a prescription and a state-issued card to purchase medical marijuana, but the medical variety is not taxed. Adult-use is subject to a total of 17 percent in sales and excise taxes and up to a 3 percent local option sales tax, which Great Barrington has embraced. That’s 20 percent total in taxes. So the retail adult-use price will be noticeably high than Theory’s posted prices for medical.

Another difference is that, for now, it looks like adult-use sales will have to be cash-only. Since recreational sale and use of marijuana remains a federal crime, few banks that issue credit and debit cards are willing to stick their necks out and risk reprisals from the feds. However, one credit union in Gardner has announced it will offer banking services to recreational cannabis companies. Others are likely to follow, industry insiders say.

Indeed, Pollock added in a follow-up text message that, “We are expecting to accept debit cards [for adult use] similar to how we operate now in the medical market.”

Theory is one of the state’s 40 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. But with the addition of recreational, Pollock said Theory is preparing for what will surely be an uptick in business. To wit, the company recently signed a lease for 25 additional parking spaces next door from Laramee’s Cleaners. That will bring the total to 50.

In addition, Theory will likely expand the Great Barrington store’s hours of operation by an hour, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, matching the Bridgewater location.

Still, Pollock says it’s a open question as to whether Theory’s 12,000-square-foot cultivation facility in Bridgewater will be able to meet the demand for the company’s product once Theory begins to sell adult-use.

“Supply is a concern,” Pollock explained. “We may have to supplement with wholesale suppliers.”

Of the retail adult-use stores vying in the state licensing regimen for the Great Barrington market, which is considered attractive because of its proximity to Connecticut and New York, Theory had a leg up since existing medical marijuana dispensaries qualify for expedited review before the CCC.

In March business consultant Michael Cohen (left) and Berkshire Wellco founder Chris Weld answer questions at Sheffield hearing on their proposed medical marijuana facility. Photo: Terry Cowgill

There are at least four others looking to open adult-use shops in and around Great Barrington: Highminded LLC, Calyx Berkshire Dispensary, Commonwealth Cultivation and Berkshire Welco LLC.

The first three propose to use existing buildings in Great Barrington. The fourth, Berkshire Welco, is a retail and cultivation facility in Sheffield under construction and owned by a group that includes Chris Weld, the founder of Berkshire Mountain Distillers.

Pollock said he plans to add 15 jobs and the community impact fee agreed to with the town calls for a payment equal to 3 percent of the gross adult-use sales. That could result in as much as $250,000 per year in revenue for the town, in addition to the 3 percent local sales tax.

While Theory is among several that have received provisional adult-use licenses from the state, including Berkshire Roots in Pittsfield; only two — one in Leicester and another in Northampton — have received final business licenses for retail shops.