December 16, 2017

Canal District medical marijuana shop to follow a Coloradan path

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She is from Colorado, and last year was named one of the 50 most important women in the cannabis industry. And now she is coming to Worcester.

Meg Collins will be opening one of the city’s four medical marijuana shops – hers will be located in the Canal District. She will bring expertise from operating a similar facility in Colorado and through her work as vice president of public affairs for Good Chemistry, a Colorado-based nursery company that describes itself as “… dedicated to creating the world’s finest cannabis.”

Collins said Massachusetts’ marijuana skeptics should give the new industry time. In a short while, she predicts, they will be won over by its professionalism and profit margin.

“I have worked with many communities to make sure they are educated and confident in what they are doing,” she said in an interview with the Worcester Sun. “Proprietors need to see it as their role to make their communities comfortable with what they are doing.”

While many Colorado communities have embraced marijuana legalization – Good Chemistry operates facilities in Denver and Aurora – Collins notes that two-thirds of the counties in the state do not allow marijuana.

In that sense, the reticence of some Massachusetts communities to participate in the selling and growing of marijuana is not an unusual reaction. But Collins sees it as her role to demonstrate that the marijuana business is highly professional.

“It’s not the wild, wild west,” she said. “We are a heavily regulated industry.”

“Working with the City Council and the members of the Legislature and the city itself is terrific,” she said of her dealings in Worcester and on Beacon Hill. “They’ve been smart about it and ask great questions.”

Good Chemistry was a supporter of the Canal District Music Series last summer, and expects to continue that support. Company founder and CEO Matthew Huron is not unfamiliar with the city. His father went to the College of the Holy Cross and his grandparents lived in the area.

While state law allows recreational sites to open as of July 1, Good Chemistry is shooting for that date to open a dispensary for medical use. “We’ve had the dispensary location for a while, but we’ve been looking for a cultivation location, which we are in the midst of finalizing,” Collins said.

For cultivation, it is all about finding the right location. In Denver, Good Chemistry grows marijuana plants in warehouses with adequate space and the proper amounts of electricity generation and air conditioning.

“Massachusetts will be different than Colorado because of the humidity,” Collins said.

Good Chemistry has looked at a number of existing warehouses in the city, but finding the right fit isn’t as easy as it might appear. “Some of those warehouses would take a heck of a lot of money to get to the point where they would be viable, and some of them were too big,” she said. “We are a very competitive company; we are not going to do a race to the bottom.

“We will open as medical, to serve that community. We want to see what the adult-use regulations look like before we decide what the next step is going to be after medical,” Collins said.

Massachusetts is one of seven states, along with Washington, D.C., that have passed “the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.” In Colorado, marijuana has grown into a billion-dollar industry.

“We are a billion-dollar market because we are medical and recreational,” Collins said. “Massachusetts may at some point be a billion-dollar market. It’s been so slow to get started in Massachusetts, but I would not be surprised that recreational, if it gained traction, doesn’t provide significant revenues and tax revenues.”

A typical retail shop, either medical or recreational, will employ about a dozen people at the beginning, she said.

Collins said she believes some of the communities that have put moratoriums on hosting a marijuana facility will come around once they see there is nothing to fear. “That’s fine, until folks figure out that it really is a business and it’s run safely with best practices. Some people like to take a little more time and it’s a slow roll,” she said.

Some communities may find that the financial incentives cut through their leaders’ reticence, with a 3 percent local tax on sales, another 3 percent cut in locally-generated revenue and the specter of losing out on state tax money on marijuana sales unless they participate.

“The acceleration and sophistication of the companies in this industry in a very short period of time is extraordinary,” Collins said. “I came out of the oil and gas world, which has had 60 years to be regulated, but this industry, which is not very old in Massachusetts, is up to about 500 pages of regulations now. For a new industry, it has a lot of regulations.”

As for her own role, she said, “I like being a pioneer. I particularly like policy development and I love regulatory work. I don’t consume marijuana, but having done a lot of environmental work, I like to make sure that in the industry I represent that the regulations are something the industry can operate under. Being a native of Colorado, I like to make sure we do things that are best for the state.”

Good Chemistry has about 50,000 square feet of cultivation space in Denver. The company’s shop in Aurora is about as far from a “head shop” as one can imagine. Collins calls it “drop-dead gorgeous.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has developed a public relations campaign for marijuana called, “Good to Know.” Collins said there has been no increase in underage and teen marijuana use in the legalization era. Studies also show a rise in adult use.

“As a member of a community, I would rather have a regulated, licensed, tested product sold in regulated stores and diminish the black market,” Collins said.

For now, Worcester is the only place in Massachusetts where Good Chemistry is doing business. But Collins said that could change. “If an opportunity is presented to us and it fits with our business plan and values, and a community wants to have us, we are not going to turn down an opportunity,” she said.

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