At this rate, seasoned pot dealers have nothing to fear.
Last week, Alternative Therapies Group (ATG) in Salem became the first Bay State dispensary to open and serve patients. It was an exciting moment for those who have waited close to three years for access, but far less exciting for those who were expecting a large selection of medicine at reasonable prices, as the only two strains on the low-end of the spectrum cost $372 an ounce, which is double what I typically encounter on the black market. It’s not quite the price of gold, but the green is fetching more than silver, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol. In short: the price of weed is too damn high.
Chris Edwards, executive director at ATG, has thus far refused most media requests, but did say his dispensary is unable to discuss the issue since state regulations restrict them from advertising prices. No doubt this is disappointing news for patients looking to shop around, and for those who thought that Governor Charlie Baker’s campaign pledge for increased healthcare pricing transparency applied to their medicine too. Baker has been lauded by marijuana advocates for helping dispensaries open after a ridiculously long wait; still, with such silly regulations in place about things like having public price charts, the state remains in the business of solidifying more hardships. We’ll see what happens on the display front in the future, but so far, ATG patients on opening day reported that they weren’t even allowed to examine their medicine before purchasing.
Dennis Kunian, a spokesperson for Patriot Care, which hopes to open three dispensaries in Massachusetts, says, “We are not allowed to advertise prices. However, we will be providing a list of our prices and discounts to qualified patients and caregivers. We do expect to carry a broad range of strains and prices as we do in other markets.” Kunian adds: “We also expect to offer discounts for certain patients like the terminally ill, vets , and seniors. We would expect as more competition comes into the market, more dispensaries will likely bring prices down.”
Last month, David Noble, president and CEO of the coming Brockton marijuana dispensary In Good Health, told WGBH News that his facility will charge up to $510 for an ounce of flower, leading many patients and local activists on social media to address the need for people to grow their own medicine, and for a system that allows independent caregivers to provide extensive services to more people. Bill Downing, a longtime marijuana advocate and member of MassCann/NORML and the pro-legalization group Bay State Repeal, says his own experience is a relevant case study. Before his Yankee Care Givers service was shut down by the state, Downing says he sold “loose buds of decent weed for $280,” and “never had ounces over $320, and that included free delivery to your door.”
“ATG will have a statewide monopoly for the whole summer,” says Downing, who has contributed to DigBoston. “They should work harder to establish a good image before competitors begin eating their lunch.”
If dispensary operators have good sense, they will aim to compete with black market growers. Otherwise, there will be more legal and illegal home grows, not to mention a greater push at the State House for reforms, as there is already a push by the Mass Patient Advocacy Alliance to expand the caregiver ratio and allow affordable alternatives for all patients (their bill currently has 16 co-sponsors).
Here’s hoping there will soon be competing dispensaries, and that they all focus on working for Commonwealth residents, rather than on the immediate recoupment of their investments, and monopolization of the market, however provincial or temporary. These businesses have had a tough run so far, but that’s the fault of statesmen, not patients.