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Police prepare for big crowds when Northampton dispensary greenlighted

  • The exterior of New England Treatment Access, or NETA, is shown June 27, 2018 in Northampton. FILE PHOTO

  • A University of Massachusetts Amherst website lets students know campus policy for marijuana. Recreational cannabis shops are set to open any day now. SUBMITTED IMAGE



Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — The moment is finally here. Well, almost.

Recreational marijuana is on the Pioneer Valley’s doorstep, with Northampton’s New England Treatment Access set to become potentially the first recreational shop to open on the East Coast. The much-anticipated event is sparking plenty of preparation, and not just on NETA’s part.

“We’re expecting a high volume of vehicles and pedestrian traffic around the facility,” Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper said, referring to NETA.

To prepare, police officers will be assigned to direct traffic on Pleasant and Conz streets, Kasper said.

Despite the unique reason for the traffic, however, she said the department’s preparations for that traffic are very familiar already. Northampton hosts plenty of events that bring crowds, she said.

“We’re pretty accustomed to dealing with traffic and trying to make it go as smoothly as we can,” Kasper said.

That traffic may cause headaches for some, but for local businesses it could be a boon, bringing people to Northampton from across the state, and likely from neighboring states as well.

The Downtown Northampton Association sent out an email to members recently, alerting them to the likelihood that NETA’s opening will be bringing many people to the city.

“We just don’t want the businesses to be caught off guard if suddenly there’s an influx of unexpected people downtown,” said Amy Cahillane, the association’s executive director.

Cahillane said the downtown business community is excited to see what happens when NETA opens. And downtown businesses certainly appear ready for an influx.

Aimee Francaes and her husband, Jesse Hassinger, are the owners of the restaurant Belly of the Beast, and after around a year and a half without a vacation they decided to take their first four days this week. But then they got the Downtown Northampton Association’s email.

“It gave me pause,” Francaes said. “I thought for a second we shouldn’t leave, because of the volume we are going to see.”

Luckily, NETA didn’t open when they were out of town. The two got back on Thursday, and Francaes said she’s excited for the rush of new people into Northampton.

“That really can’t be anything other than a good thing as long as we’re prepared,” she said. “I would expect it to be a good crowd.”

Rachel Kurtz, an employee at nearby Faces, said Northampton businesses are used to occasionally getting additional traffic — for Smith College alumnae day, for example.

“We want new traffic to come into the store,” Kurtz said. “We have a huge local customer base, but we’re always hoping to see new faces.”

Businesses aren’t the only ones who are preparing.

The Valley’s colleges and university have long been preparing for the arrival of recreational marijuana. That’s because campuses across the state follow federal law, which doesn’t allow for marijuana use at educational facilities. So, although marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, students aren’t allowed to consume it on university property.

“As students came to campus in the fall, we didn’t know what the exact timing was in terms of when particular approvals would be made,” University of Massachusetts Amherst spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said. “We wanted to really be out ahead of things and sharing this information with students.”

UMass Amherst has created a snazzy website detailing the law, both on and off campus, and providing students with other resources like information on how marijuana can negatively affect academic performance.

Students and their parents have also received newsletters on the subject, and students are regularly reminded of the law in university messages, Blaguszewski said, adding that the university has been providing that messaging since voters legalized recreational marijuana two years ago.

“We believed, and it’s true, that these things were going to come online this academic year,” Blaguszewski said of recreational weed shops. As such, the university made sure to get out ahead of students with information.

In Northampton, Smith College sent emails to students two years ago, and conversations are ongoing about whether and how to communicate with students after NETA opens, Smith spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel said.

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