It’s been four and a half years since Massachusetts voters – including those from Abington – approved a ballot question legalizing the retail sale of marijuana.
And its been three years since Abington Town Meeting approved new bylaws allowing cannabis entrepreneurs to open up shop in town.
On Monday, consumers will finally be able to make legal pot purchases in the land of the Green Wave when Bud’s Goods & Provisions becomes the first retail marijuana shop to open for business in Abington.
“We’re feeling really good about it,” said Ben Nadolny, Bud’s vice president of operations.
Starting at 10 a.m., customers can either start making their orders online, or visit the company’s new retail space at 1540 Bedford St in person. Customers must be 21 years old and have an official government ID to enter the store. Those using the curbside pickup option can not have anyone under the age of 21 with them.
In some towns, new retail marijuana shops have generated traffic backups. Under its town permit, Bud’s will pay for an Abington Police traffic detail to handle any traffic issues during its first week of operation. But Nadolny isn’t expecting a big crush; he said the majority of business at their Worcester store is done online, meaning parking spaces turn over quickly as customers pick up their orders and leave.
The building — formerly home to a dry cleaners and computer repair shop – has been thoroughly renovated to create a sleek, combined retail space on the first floor, and a secure storeroom, prep space, and business office on the second floor.
Customers will have their IDs checked before entering the store. Under state law, each retail marijuana shop must have a secure entryway, where employees can login visitors before buzzing them in to the main sales floor. The entryway for Bud’s resembles a movie theater box office, with a white tile floor, framed graphic art posters on the walls, and a teller-style counter.
For anybody used to visiting a typical package store, Bud’s will be a shock to the system. The sales floor, which Bud’s President Alex Mazin describes as “modern Americana” features white oak shelves and glass display cases, making the shop feel more like a health and beauty boutique or jewelry shop. The finished white vinyl floor reflects overhead lighting, making the store appear filled with natural light. A black-and-gold- marquee hangs over the main sales counter, which is made from white granite, and contains additional glass cases that will display samples of cannabis flower for purchase.
While some top-selling products will be kept behind the counter, most orders will be prepared upstairs, and then dropped down custom-built chutes to the sales floor.
An eclectic collection of Boston sports memorabilia is sprinkled throughout, including a game-used base still marked with dirt from player footsteps. A number of cannabis products are displayed in the actual slatted, wooden tickets sorters that were used at the Fenway Park box office.
The finished product makes Bud’s perhaps the nicest retail space in Abington – and that was intentional, according to Mazin. He’s aware of the past stigma around selling and buying marijuana and understands the importance of the new industry putting its best foot forward.
“We wanted to design a space that caters to the new consumer,” Mazin said.
Navigating new choices
Buying cannabis in 2021 means much more than just purchasing an unmarked bag of weed. The range of products containing cannabis and THC – the active psychoactive chemical that causes a user to feel high – has expanded to include oils, tinctures, edibles, and concentrates, in addition to flower, which is now the preferred name for the product traditionally known as marijuana.
Bud’s product list includes lotions, chocolates, gummies, mints, and even cannabis-infused seltzer.
Only about 5 percent of adults surveyed recently said they had consumed cannabis within the previous 30 days, while about 55 percent of adults said the same about alcohol. As the number of adults who regularly use cannabis products climbs closer to those who drink, it represents thousands of new potential customers for a shop such as Bud’s.
“The majority of cannabis consumers are not regular cannabis consumers yet,” Mazin said. “It’s why products like that seltzer line will help break down those barriers.”
The Abington store also carries 40 different types of pre-rolled joints, and 30 types of flowers of varying strains and strengths.
“One of the things that made us successful [in Worcester] is the depth of our selection,” Mazin said.
But for the new customer, the breadth of the selection can be overwhelming – not unlike a casual beer drinker walking into a craft beer shop for the first time and gazing at row after row of unfamiliar labels with exotic descriptions. A peanut butter oatmeal stout? Granddaddy Purple?
Nadolny said the sales staff will be able to help new customers navigate the menu and suggest items to try. For example, a sativa flower versus an indica. Or gummies versus a tincture (The shop also offers a small booklet to help customers understand the terminology and options).
“Our suggestion is always to start low and go slow,” Nadolny said, referring to product THC levels.
Choosing a product also isn’t unlike visiting a wine shop, where not only are there different varieties of vino but different grades and potency within each variety, and even some selections specific for aficionados, Nadolny said. For example, one of Bud’s most popular products at its Worcester shop is a white-labeled, low-cost flower called Lil’ Buds, an ⅛ of which sells for about the same as an ⅛ on the black market. A higher-grade variety licensed by the family of guitar rock god and counterculture icon Jerry Garcia costs almost twice as much.
Mazin and Nadolny acknowledge that purchasing cannabis at a place such as Bud’s means consumers are going to pay a premium versus making a black market buy. Part of that cost difference is the multiple layers of state and local taxes attached to each transaction: every sale made in Abington, for example, comes with a 3 percent local sales tax. The trade off is that consumers can buy without fear of arrest and prosecution, that there are strict state limits on any chemicals or fertilizers that can be used, that buyers know exactly what they’re getting, and that the cannabis is of a higher quality.
“Buyers’ remorse with buying bad product is huge,” said Nadolny, who added that all products go through an inhouse quality testing process. “We want to show this neighborhood a lot of respect when it comes to quality.”
With past stigmas around marijuana sales still breaking down, and a robust black-market still in existence, the cannabis industry is operating under significant security controls and safety regulations – especially compared to other vice industries such as alcohol.
For example, every sale is immediately registered in a statewide system, and inventories must undergo regular audits. All deliveries are tracked by GPS and logged. Buyers are limited in how much they can purchase in a day. Even every flower is tracked with a unique code from seed to sale. Mazin understands why the rules are in place, but acknowledges they still sometimes rankle him, especially compared to the perceived passes the alcohol industry gets.
“If one joint goes missing in our inventory, the [Cannabis Control Commission] has the right to shut us down. What happens to a liquor store if one nip goes missing?” Mazin said. “If we drop one vape cartridge we have to do an entire inventory check.”
Mazin said he trained his staff, which includes multiple Abington residents, to think more like bank tellers than cannabis purveyors.
“A bank doesn’t get to have $5 go missing,” he said. “We try to tell everybody ‘You’re handling money, you’re not handling cannabis.”
One slip-up too many could result in a store such as Bud’s losing its license.
“Without compliance nobody has a job,” he said.
Some media stories have also popped up about edibles looking too similar to traditional candy packaging, and kids and pets consuming harmless-looking edibles.
Nadolny said this has been more of a problem in other states, and on the black-market, where there’s less or no control over how products are sold. However, in Massachusetts, the state cannabis commission has to approve all packaging, and requires that products be sold in a third party certified child-proof container.
Bud’s had to undergo multiple inspections by state and Abington officials before opening day.
“The owner and management staff have been very professional to work with, and we do not anticipate any issues beyond a possible initial curiosity factor with the number of customers,” Fire Chief John Nuttall said.
Nadolny said the store has had a positive experience working with the Town of Abington getting the shop set up.
“Abington Police has been super in the whole process,” he said.
[DISCLOSURE: The author is a member of the Abington Planning Board, which reviewed and approved the site plan for the business.]