Recreational pot shop may see slight delay from original opening timeline

Thomas Keenan, (standing, right) CEO of Cannabis Connection Inc., hosted a community outreach meeting in October to preview the upcoming recreational marijuana shop. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- By the end of this year, the City of Westfield is expected to have its first open recreational marijuana shop operating in the city, but Cannabis Connection’s CEO said that the timeline may have been pushed back slightly.

During their community outreach meeting in October, CEO Thomas Keenan said that they expected a grand opening of August or September of this year. However, Keenan recently said that the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) is taking longer to review their application than anticipated.

“Our original timeline estimated that we’d already have our provisional license and we’d be in the inspection phase,” said Keenan, “I believe the CCC recently got through most of the priority applications and are moving on to general applicants.”

Despite the delay,  Cannabis Connection building is under construction, and at least the exterior of the building appears to be nearly finished. The building is located on a lot across the street from the Holiday Inn next to the Mass Pike. Keenan said that he is hopeful that the application will be reviewed soon and that a more accurate timeline can be determined. He added that his expectations about the length of the process may have been too optimistic to begin with.

“We simply have no idea how quickly that will happen, we’re at the mercy of the CCC,” he said.

Maryalice Gill, a spokesperson for the CCC, said the application review process will not take more than 90 days. When or before that period is up, the CCC may either issue a provisional license or deny the application.

“The time it takes to complete that process depends on the initial completeness of the applicant’s submitted packets, the time it takes to complete the background check, and the time it takes for a municipality to respond to the Commission,” said Gill, “Again, the Commission’s review of a completed application will not take more than 90 days. Applications that have been reviewed by the Commission, including the required background check, are put to a public vote for a provisional license.”

Gill added that, once approved, the licensee must pay a fee, undergo an inspection, begin registering agents and fingerprint staff to the establishment, and meet certain conditions the Commission has established for the license. She said that the amount of time it takes to complete the tasks depends on the licensee. Neither Keenan or Gill said exactly when Cannabis Connection will open, but Keenan is optimistic.

As of now, there are more than 15 stores that sell recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, including New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton, INSA in Easthampton, and Rise in Amherst. Although there were large crowds lined up in the first weeks after the first few stores opened, the hype has since died down, and it no longer takes hours to get in and out of the store. However there are few stores in Western Massachusetts that have opened in areas near colleges in session. Rise was allowed to open shortly after the college students in the town went home for the summer.

Keenan does not anticipate Westfield State University being a notable factor in the crowds when his store opens, even if it does happen in the fall when school is back in session. He cited the fact that most WSU students are under the age of 21, and they will be prepared for fake IDs.

“Unlike liquor stores and bars, we will be using high tech scanners and our reception/security employees will be specially trained to ensure that fake ID’s are spotted and nobody can even get into our store that is under 21,” Keenan said, “So we’re not anticipating or relying on college students to be our primary customers.”

He also said the fasted growing demographic for marijuana users are those who are middle aged or older. At the community outreach meeting in October, there were no attendees present who appeared to be under the age of 30. The older citizens who did attend were not concerned with the idea of a pot shop, but instead were more interested in things like the zoning requirements for the building itself. Keenan emphasized that Cannabis Connection would not be solely for recreational users, but will also have medical oriented options that don’t require the customer to suffer from a severe illness.

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