Buzz kill: Pot shops reopen, but some fear another shutdown

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Sales associate Alex Guralnik, of Newton, Mass., right, hands a bag containing recreational cannabis product to a customer outside New England Treatment Access medical and recreational marijuana dispensary, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Brookline, Mass. Sales of recreational cannabis products to the public was allowed to open Monday, May 25 in Massachusetts after being closed for about two months due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON – Marijuana shops in many states have enjoyed brisk business during the coronavirus pandemic. In New England? Not so much.

Recreational shops reopened this week in Massachusetts with strict regulations after being ordered shut down the past two months.

Now, some worry that state officials could simply shutter them again if there's a resurgence of the virus in Massachusetts, the only state that has deemed the shops “nonessential” during the pandemic.

“It’s a real concern,” said Amanda Rositano, president of New England Treatment Access, which operates two marijuana shops serving both recreational and medical marijuana customers. “We took an enormous hit these last two months. Our stores saw an 85% to 90% reduction in sales. We really had to scrape by.”

A group of shops unsuccessfully sued Republican Gov. Charlie Baker last month, arguing it was arbitrary to order them closed while liquor stores and medical marijuana dispensaries remained open as “essential” businesses.

Baker's office, which didn't comment this week on the industry's concerns, has previously said Massachusetts’ retail shops — the only ones operating on the East coast — could draw people from out of state and further spread the virus.

In Maine, where voters approved recreational sales in 2016, officials were aiming to open the state’s first retail shops sometime this spring, but that process has been delayed indefinitely because of the pandemic, said David Heidrich, spokesman for the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy.

Marijuana businesses now hope the first wave of recreational shops can open in the fall after years of delays, said Charlie Langston, managing director at the Wellness Connection, which has applied to add recreational sales to its four medical marijuana dispensaries.