Our Opinion: Berkshire doors open to recreational pot

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Recreational marijuana sales begin in Berkshire County today, with Theory Wellness opening its doors on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington. Temescal Wellness on Callahan Drive in Pittsfield will open for business next week. There will be traffic and there will be glitches, but the towns appear to have learned from the experiences of the two first state communities to take advantage of the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.

"We always say, 'Plan for the worst and hope for the best,' " said Leicester Police Chief James J. Hurley to the Worcester Telegram last month in advising other communities on how to handle the deluge of purchasers from parts near and far. Northampton and Leicester facilities opened on the same day in November, but Leicester, perhaps because of its proximity to populous Worcester, appeared to be hit hardest, with massive daily traffic jams crippling other retailers and making it difficult for some residents to get out of their driveways.

In Great Barrington, police and Theory Wellness have been working together to anticipate the difficulties experienced by Leicester and avoid them to the largest extent possible. The company has hired two town police officers to work daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. to keep traffic moving on Route 7, which can become sluggish under routine circumstances, and a third officer will manage parking over the weekend. The company will employ Twitter, its website and its Facebook page to provide information on parking and on wait times at its facility. (Eagle, Jan. 9).

Northampton, that land of many crosswalks, experienced a problem according to Police Chief Jody Kasper that is likely to afflict Great Barrington — busier than usual crosswalks that become particularly hazardous after dark. Pedestrian etiquette in terms of following the rules of crosswalks is not particularly consistent, and we urge people on foot and drivers to be particularly cautious in downtown Great Barrington beginning today so tragedy can be averted.

Downtown retailers and restaurants are undoubtedly concerned about the impact traffic congestion generated by the opening of the pot shop will have on their business, but the increase in foot traffic could have benefits as well. There is a novelty factor to the opening that will wear off over time, and as more and more marijuana retailers open for business across the state, dividing the market, traffic pressure on host communities will lessen.

We anticipate that Temescal Wellness will be monitoring the situation in Great Barrington beginning Friday in preparation for its opening at a date to be determined. A traffic detail will be provided by Pittsfield police at the intersection of Callahan Drive and Route 20 and the company's website will provide information on parking.

According to the state Cannabis Control Commission, customers spent more than $2 million at the Northampton and Leicester shops in their first five days in operation. Similar sales in Great Barrington and Pittsfield could also produce business for other retailers as well as tax revenue for the state. Beyond traffic issues, the potential down sides are an increase in substance abuse and the number of drivers operating under the influence of pot. The recreational marijuana industry is a work in progress in Massachusetts, with much to be learned by retailers, communities and law enforcement. That process begins today in the Berkshires.

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