SHEFFIELD — Outside, a fast stretch of state Route 7 cuts through some of this town's many cornfields.
Inside, workers are dealing with another kind of plant — it's grown on-site — as they get set to open Berkshire County's newest pot shop Friday. It was only Tuesday that The Pass received approval to sell what it grows and makes here.
It's not your typical opening, even for a pot shop in the relatively new realm of "legal." Given the coronavirus pandemic, preparations involve adhering to more than the standard state regulations. Workers in this industry are learning, and so is the public — about how to shop for weed.
"As consumers get more educated, they know what they want because this year has been about education," said Blake Gurgul, associate retail manager, speaking to what has been a retail industry in Massachusetts that has been running only since November 2018, after the state legalized recreational cannabis in 2016 at the will of voters. The Pass is a recreational shop.
Amid strict state rules, it has taken company partners and founders Christopher Weld and Michael Cohen almost three years to build the business and navigate a regulatory maze to open this "farm to label" operation just over the Great Barrington line.
Weld also owns Berkshire Mountain Distillers, also in Sheffield.
The Pass, at 1375 N. Main St., is the first cannabis shop to open in Sheffield, and it follows the January 2019 opening of Theory Wellness in Great Barrington, the first recreational pot shop in the county. Five more companies are in various stages of approval for Great Barrington stores.
Cohen, the company's president, said it has 40 on staff, with 20 of those in retail. He says he will have 60 by the end of the year.
"We'll have a full range of jobs, and not just jobs, but a full range of career opportunities," he said, noting that the area needs more jobs. "The Berkshires is a hard place to make a living."
For the first week, the store will sell only products from other growers, until it can package its own.
And this is the whole point.
"The biggest thing for us is freshness," Gurgul said as he and retail manager Brian Lizotte rush around the week before the opening.
Lizotte said that having the source out back helps confidence in sales, given the company's control over its product. The Pass also has an outdoor farm in nearby Ashley Falls, but it isn't fully licensed yet.
Cohen says he views cannabis as an alternative to other mind-altering substances.
"It's for inspiration, relaxation, pain relief, socializing," he said. "A lot of people are concerned that this new legal cannabis will lead to a wave of overconsumption; the reality is, that access was never an issue."
He worries about use by teens, and so the company, he said, is creating a public service video and has other plans.
"It's our responsibility to educate the public about problems with underage consumption," he said, noting the harm that cannabis causes the teenage brain.
The company doesn't want adults to overindulge, either.
"Start low, go slow," Gurgul said, adding that the industry also needs to defeat "the stigma of `stoner.'"
The manufacturing room looks like a lab. There are beakers and scales and large canisters of liquid nitrogen. This is the place where cannabis goes from plant to distillate to make products like oils, edibles and salves. In a smaller room, there is a tablet press that can shoot out 100,000 wafers at a time that taste like Smarties. Doses are measured, and samples of everything are sent to a state-certified lab for testing before the product can be sold.
Out back, the staff monitors the greenhouse. In the cultivation building, a sterilizing pad cleans the soles of shoes on the way in. Pete Steimer, the company's cultivation director, holds up a bud called Orange Cake and said that The Pass will be growing other strains that "I haven't seen anywhere yet."
While the retail side will handle preorders, Cohen motions up to the high ceiling and says the shop is roomy enough to comfort even a panicked pandemic pot shopper.
"It's an airy situation," he said.
Lizotte said that, while times are stressful, retail staff in this business knows how to overcome.
"At the end of the day, we sell weed — you should have a smile on your face," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.