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INSA pot: Valley’s second recreational marijuana shop starts sales in Easthampton 

  • The line and the wait were short for patrons of INSA one hour after the Easthampton establishment began its first day of recreational sales of marijuana on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Council Vice President Salem Derby walks away from the counter at INSA after making the first purchase of recreational marijuana at the city business on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Councilor and State Representative-elect Dan Carey, left, and Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti attend the first day of recreational marijuana sales at INSA in Easthampton on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • INSA staffer Molly Bass, right, seen through a display case of marijuana products, helps a customer decide on a purchase on the first day of recreational sales at the Easthampton business on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • INSA CEO Mark Zatyrka, right, exchanges high-fives with his crew as they prepare to open for the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Easthampton on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle gives a speech inside INSA on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at the city establishment on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Behind her are, from left, City Council Member At-large Daniel Carey, Council Vice-President Salem Derby and Council President Joseph McCoy. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle gives a speech inside INSA on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at the city establishment on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Behind her are, from left, District 2 City Councilor Homar Gomez, Council Member At-large Daniel Carey, Council Vice-President Salem Derby and Council President Joseph McCoy. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • INSA CEO Mark Zatryka speaks to the media just before the Easthampton establishment opened for its first day of recreational marijuana sales on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail of a display case at INSA on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at the Easthampton establishment on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of the media photograph Easthampton City Council Vice-President Salem Derby as he makes the first purchase of recreational marijuana at INSA in Easthampton on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Council Vice-President Salem Derby, center, makes the first purchase of recreational marijuana at INSA in Easthampton on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Michael Cruz of Springfield, who was third in line at INSA in Easthampton for the first day of recreational marijuana sales on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, said, “It’s a new experience. Almost like the end of prohibition.” —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrons wait their turns to make purchases on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at INSA in Easthampton on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Separate lanes are marked out for medical marijuana patients and recreational users inside INSA but the lines were practically nonexistent at the Easthampton establishment for its first day of recreational sales on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • INSA staffer Molly Bass helps a customer decide on a purchase on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at the Easthampton business on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2018 2:05:22 PM

EASTHAMPTON — It was 16 years ago that City Councilor Salem Derby was first elected, and in his first year he said he sat down with state representatives John Scibak and Stephen Kulik and asked a blunt question.

“I looked them both in the eye, and I said, ‘Are you going to help me fight for marijuana legalization?’” Derby recalled Saturday after making the very first recreational marijuana purchase at INSA, which officially began adult-use business at 10 a.m.

Whether state representatives or city councilors, Derby said he had to convince a lot of people over the years of his vision for legal pot in Easthampton. But his work in the council, and chairing its ordinance committee, paid off when he made his first purchase: a vaporizer with a strain high in CBD — a non-psychoactive and medically beneficial component of marijuana — and a pre-rolled “Hawaiian Spice” joint.

Lines didn’t snake around the block as they had at Northampton’s New England Treatment Access, or NETA, a month prior, but traffic was steady. Around 35 people were waiting at 9:30 a.m. prior to opening. A food truck was parked nearby. In total, the store served “close to a thousand patrons with little to no wait times,” according to a press release INSA issued after the day was over. On its first day of business, NETA served around 2,000 customers, according to a company spokesman.

Inside the store, employees made final preparations for the rush, and local politicians milled about waiting for the big moment, pop music playing over the speakers.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Police Chief Robert Alberti, who was inside with several other police officers. Alberti previously served on a task force with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which still continues to classify marijuana as an illegal “Schedule I” drug with no accepted medical use. But on Saturday, Alberti was talking business and commerce, and how his department would work together with INSA. “We’re looking forward to the collaboration,” he said. 

Sales started a bit late as the business’s management and politicians made speeches inside. Mark Zatyrka, INSA’s CEO, began by praising employees across the business, from those working in the cultivation operation above the store’s retail space to the cooks in the back who make edibles.

“All that happens in this building here in Easthampton,” Zatyrka said. 

“We are a leader and are progressive in our business-ready mentality,” Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said, emphasizing the jobs and sustainability she said INSA would bring to Easthampton.

Zatyrka and his business partners began the process of opening a dispensary in Easthampton around six years ago, when medical marijuana became legal. After finding a spot in the mill building, constructing a space and working through city and state government, INSA opened for medical sales in February.

The name INSA is a combination of two different types of marijuana, indica and sativa. And sales employees were explaining the differences amid all of INSA’s strains to customers as they came into the store, walking past the large, glass showcases. 

Molly Bass, 23, of Wilbraham, was one of those employees, guiding customers through the variety of products: chocolates, “flower,” pre-rolled joints and vaporizers, to name a few. She said employees go through extensive training on the products and their effects.

“People come in and say what effect they want,” she said, and employees point them in the right direction.

One of the first customers in line was Michael Cruz, 28, of Springfield. 

“It’s a new experience,” he said. “Almost like the end of Prohibition.” 

Thomas Peake, a city councilor, is a medical marijuana patient and has visited local dispensaries before, including NETA. He said he thinks customers will be drawn to INSA’s atmosphere.

“It’s a very warm, inviting space,” he said. “And I’m really excited about the tax revenue.”

INSA is just the fifth recreational dispensary to open in the state, and by extension on the East Coast. But others are soon to follow; several businesses are in the process of setting up shop in Easthampton, as well as many others in nearby communities.

Several people, including city councilors Derby and Owen Zaret, said that while Saturday’s event is one worth celebrating, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that marijuana legalization also benefits those who were most impacted by prohibition. 

A 2016 report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts found that the state has deep racial disparities when it comes to marijuana arrests, with black and Latino residents having been disproportionately affected. And in states where marijuana has been legalized, racial disparities in businesses ownership are well-documented. In an effort to promote equity in the industry, last week the state's Cannabis Control Commission began accepting applications for its social equity program, which gives technical assistance and training to communities disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests.

As the second day of sales began Sunday at INSA, the trend appeared to be the same as the first day. Lines were minimal or non-existent, and there was plenty of parking. Business appeared far from slow, however; a steady stream of cars pulled up to the store, and shortly after pulled away.

Over in Northampton, people continued to wait in a long line at NETA despite INSA’s shorter wait times. When informed that there was another recreational dispensary with no lines just a 10-minute drive away, some near the front of NETA’s line were unpleasantly surprised.

“That is kind of disappointing,” said Chris Soares, who lives in Palmer. But that didn’t mean he planned to head INSA’s way after having already waited more than an hour to get into NETA.

“I can’t get out now,” he said. “I’m in too deep.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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