Grow, Gift, Repair

Thoughts on the illicit market?

Norton Arbelaez is director of government affairs for NETA, a medical dispensary with locations in Northampton and Brookline, and a cultivation facility in Franklin. The company has applied for a recreational marijuana sale license, as well.

“We really see this as an opportunity to expand our services, not change course,” he said. “It is more of an expansion.”

NETA plans to hire 100 people, and open a third retail location in Franklin. Arbelaez said NETA’s products will be tested by third parties, labeled and packaged to indicate specific doses, and there will be branding elements. On the black market, he said, the marijuana will be completely unregulated.

“It’s not so much of a competition,” Arbelaez said. “It’s apples and oranges.”
Arbelaez said it was the same for the “gray market.” Like the black market, the gray market is also illegal, but operates somewhat inside the legal system, he said. He used the example of someone legally allowed to grow marijuana for medical purposes, but who grows more plant than needed and sells to others.
While he does not believe it will happen overnight — Arbelaez predicted a few years — he thinks that cannabis users will migrate toward buying in a store rather than sticking with their dealer.

“They get used to the quality, they get used to the consistency,” he said. “They are buying a product that has been sustainably manufactured. The quality can’t compare, particularly of the infused products, on the gray and black markets. That is the consistency and quality that regulation provides.”

There will also be a learning curve for new cannabis customers, and Arbelaez said that NETA is prepared to welcome people of all knowledge levels. He said he expects long lines at NETA’s dispensary locations early in July, and there will be staff members going up and down the lines offering water to customers waiting. Medical patients will have their own line, so they won’t have to be delayed behind all of the new customers, he said.