Legally buying pot 100 miles from New London

The first time I stopped at the NETA marijuana store in Northampton, Mass., while visiting family nearby, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and the line to get inside literally snaked around the building.

When we pulled in to the parking lot, a friendly young Northampton police officer, in uniform, working on crowd control, leaned into my open driver's side window and suggested we would be better off ordering on line. He pointed out the short line on one side of the entrance, for picking up orders, and the longer one for shopping inside.

Having a police officer suggest shopping tips for marijuana, I have to say, was shocking for someone who, as a young man, would have dissolved in fear had a cop come up to the car window to talk about marijuana.

But this is 2019. Gay marriage is legal. Leading presidential candidates are going out of their way to deny they are capitalists. And I can drive less than two hours from home, in an electric car, to a place where you can legally buy what now even has an official establishment name: recreational marijuana.

Intimidated by the lines that day we left.

But given Connecticut's toe-dipping into the recreational marijuana pool, I decided to make a return visit to the NETA store in Northampton this week and see what we might be in for soon, a lot closer to home.

I arrived this time in the morning, on Wednesday, and the crazy weekend lines were gone. The cop was back, though, and he directed me to an open space in the "recreational" side of the lot. The medical customers get preferential parking.

Still recovering from having told a police officer I was there to shop for marijuana, for just-for-fun recreation no less, I made my way to the front door, where I was asked for an ID, which they scanned. From there, it continued to be a strange experience, not really shopping, in the sense of roaming aisles of goods on shelves.

The inside of the NETA shop looks more like a bank or a DMV office than a store, with teller-like stations built around the perimeter. A general line winds down the middle, and when you get to the front you are waved to the station of the next available salesperson.

In my case this turned out to be a pleasant and charming young woman who seemed glad to lead me on a tour of the menu, from raw flowers selling from $15 a gram to $300 an ounce, to an assortment of chocolate bars, chewables and vapor pens that you load with oils.

For old timers, they sell pre-rolled joints, at $12 a .75 gram pop.

The most surprising thing to me was the variety. I think of illegal marijuana shopping as take what you get. I doubt most people tell their dealer they are looking for something to help induce sleep or relieve back pain when they order a bag.

And yet there are almost as many varieties available at NETA as there are draft beers at most sports bars. And they promise all kinds of recreational and mood-enhancing delights.

"Ghost Train" will stimulate appetite but may not be good for patients with stress or anxiety. I crossed that one off my shopping list. "Golden Lemon" promises mood elevation and help with stress, pain, insomnia and pain. Now that's a winner.

Some help you become more cerebral. Some make you more creative. Some help you tune out.

This seems a sharp contrast from liquor stores, which pretty much offer you different products and flavors to get you to the same place: wasted.

My able guide not only helped explain the intricacies of all these varieties and their effects on users' moods, but she had some good shopping tips. She uses a vapor stick pretty much every day, she told me, and one premium pod of oil, at $60, usually lasts her a month.

The chewy bites, 20 of them in a $30 bottle, are expensive, she subtly warned me, saying it might take 20 before you feel much effect.  There are limits on the amounts of some products, not because of the law but because the store is trying to preserve low supplies, my guide explained.

The NETA store is not far at all from Hartford and I would urge all Connecticut lawmakers who are likely going to vote on a recreational marijuana bill this year to make a visit.

The bills are already appearing, and there is a lot to debate, even if it turns out there is a consensus to legalize all marijuana.

One takeaway I had from Massachusetts is that none of it is cheap. I'm guessing legal marijuana is already more expensive in Massachusetts than buying it on the street, and that doesn't account for about 20 percent in taxes, including the normal sales tax, a three-percent local marijuana tax and 10.75 percent marijuana excise tax.

I like the idea that New Mexico lawmakers are now considering, for state control of marijuana sales and distribution. It would generate even more money for the state, and it would prevent the state from sponsoring a monopolistic system that wouldn't have proper competition and market price controls.

In Connecticut, the question of legal recreational marijuana now seems to be not so much about whether or when but how.

I would urge lawmakers to get it right. There are already plenty of models out there to consider.

Maybe a little "Golden Lemon" would help them make the right choices.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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