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March 22, 2017

Medical marijuana dispensary opens in Northampton

Official New England Treatment Access Facebook Page

(Official New England Treatment Access Facebook Page)

New England Treatment Access, which is the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in Western Massachusetts, celebrated its official grand opening ceremony Friday.

The facility, which is located in Northampton, had already treated patients for a week. But with the formal commencement of business operation, members of the local media and government had their first chance to see and smell what many have been waiting for anxiously.

The ceremony was brief and to the point. It included statements from NETA’s regional director Leslie Laurie, patient Michelle Kaskey, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, and NETA’s executive director Arnon Vered. Northampton’s Police Chief Jody Kasper, Fire Chief Duane Nichols and members of the Board of Health were also in attendance.

“Our goal is to make sure people receive their needed care no matter the political push back,” Laurie said, referring to the ongoing national debate on the use of marijuana both medically and recreationally.

“I could get up and walk if I took a puff of some good pot,” said Mark Ceria, who has suffered from chronic nerve pain in his legs for over a decade that has confined him to a wheelchair.

“I’m on oxycodone, and Lyrica and 10 different other drugs. I want to try some really good marijuana to change my life without the fear of being arrested,” he said.

Ceria hopes to join NETA’s growing list of patients. The Holyoke native said the drug helps alleviate his pain, which gives him a sense of well-being.

In his public remarks, Vered referred to medical marijuana as a safe alternative to opioids. Kaskey said that it’s important that patients have another choice when trying to treat themselves.

To many, including Kaskey, it was not a surprise that Northampton was the home Western Massachusetts’ first dispensary.

“I’m appreciative but not surprised, it’s a reflection of the town’s compassion and open mindedness,” Kaskey said during the ceremony.

Narkewicz alluded to the community’s overwhelming support, citing that the town voted 84 percent in favor of opening the dispensary. He also said that the large contingent of government officials at the ceremony reflects NETA and Northampton’s positive relationship.

The mayor noted that NETA is a boost to the local economy, citing the fact that it brought in 25 high-paying jobs and that people from all over the region come to Northampton to visit the center and receive their medication.

“For people who are concerned that this is just people wandering in and buying marijuana, that’s really not what this is,” Narkewicz said regarding the tight security surrounding the location.

To get inside NETA, which is located at 118 Conz St. in an inconspicuous one-story renovated office building, patients have to be buzzed in through the front door, where there is a surveillance camera and a speaker to talk to them.

Patients then enter a sort of waiting area, where their medical marijuana card and ID are both thoroughly checked, after which, they are let in.

Awaiting the valid customer is essentially a variety of options and features. Everything is brand new, from the polished wood paneling to the multiple high-definition TVs projecting close-up images of different strains of cannabis.

Customers were lined up well over an hour before the ceremony started. They can approach the counter like in any other store and simply order what they want. In a glass display embedded in the counter is an extensive variety of strains with a display nugget for each, with several of the store’s vape pens also exhibited.

Gabe Smith can be reached at gabrielsmith@umass.edu

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