Cannabis is expected to be an economic engine for Holyoke, with several large-scale growth and retail operations slated for 2021 and beyond.
Holyoke’s open-arms approach to the industry has sparked the interest of investors drawn by low utility tariffs and old factories ready for conversion.
The state’s Cannabis Control Board has already issued about 40 provisional licenses for businesses in Holyoke, the highest number per capita of any community in Massachusetts.
“Holyoke has become a site where we have brought the industry together, especially for manufacturing,” said Marcos Marrero, who resigned in January as director of planning and development for the city. “Specifically, cultivating the plant, transforming the active ingredient, whether it’s the THC oil or the flower. “
Besides the leaf, the final ingredients are also used for edibles, oils for vaping pods or medicinal products.
Marrero compared a cannabis retail operation to a liquor store. However, community policy and norms play a role in opening stores, mostly away from residential areas. A cannabis manufacturer or grower can serve the entire market by providing raw materials or finished products, Marrero said.
He added that Holyoke provides “political stability,” where a majority of residents voted in favor of the 2016 referendum legalizing recreational marijuana. Mayor Alex B. Morse has championed relaxing state laws on marijuana and allowing recreational use.
Marrero cited the city’s electricity rates, among the lowest in Massachusetts, as one of the main reasons investors flock to Holyoke. Cultivation and cultivation operations require a lot of electricity to run artificial lights and to maintain optimal growing conditions.
In April 2018, Green Thumb Industries opened a medical marijuana grow facility on Appleton Street, an $ 8 million rehabilitation of a former paper mill. Soon followed retailers Canna Provisions on Dwight Street and Boston Bud Factory on Sargeant Street. Trulieve started working on a cultivation installation on Canal Street.
Erik Williams, COO of Canna Provisions, said while retail remains the company’s focus, cultivation and manufacturing are part of his long-term plans.
In addition to its Holyoke store, the company has outlets in Lee and Easthampton. She also operates a grow facility in Sheffield, which allows her to offer outdoor marijuana buds grown in the sun.
“We’re the only ones who have it because we support the farmers,” Williams said.
Greg “Chemdog” Krzanowski, the company’s chief culture officer, is considered “Kind Bud’s father,” according to Williams. Krzanowski produced a bud in the 1990s with over 30% THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Williams said Morse’s open attitude towards the industry was a factor in opening the Holyoke store. “We know from experience that cannabis tourism is an important element. We love the city as a whole, ”he said.
Canna Provisions wanted to be part of the story of urban revitalization in Holyoke, with the cannabis industry in the lead, he said.
In terms of popularity, Williams said floral smoking products made up half of all purchases, a universal trend in the industry, followed by edibles, vaping, concentrates, topicals and accessories.
Williams added that older consumers primarily buy edibles for the sake of wellness, a way to stimulate appetite or to alleviate aches and pains. The flower remains popular through the generations.
“Vaping is a little different group. We see women over 45 or with children still at home as heavy users of vaping, ”he said.
Franklyn Dailey, CEO and co-owner of Boston Bud Factory, said business has slowly grown despite the state’s advertising limits. “It’s difficult for new businesses to announce that they are open,” he said. But he added that COVID-19 occupancy limits are driving customers from large retailers to smaller stores like Boston Bud Factory.
Dailey said Holyoke’s open-minded approach to the cannabis industry helped him in his decision to open a store.
“They were ahead of the curve and leading the field,” said Dailey. He canceled a Springfield operation after a series of delays. “Coming to Holyoke allowed us to open the store much faster. “
While Dailey expects more stores to open in 2021 and beyond, the town of Holyoke is charging a 3% impact fee under host community agreements with the marijuana companies, which could prove too costly for small retailers. “Ultimately, they’re going to drive traffic to other cities for lower prices,” Dailey said.
The cannabis industry and investors are gobbling up the massive old paper mills in the Canal District. For generations, factories have provided a constant flow of paper and jobs to Holyokers.
Trulieve, a powerhouse in the cannabis industry, has operations in California, Connecticut, Florida and Massachusetts, including a 140,000 square foot grow-op facility under construction in Holyoke.
In June 2019, Trulieve paid $ 3.2 million for the former Conklin Office Furniture building at 56 Canal St.
The company plans to set aside 100,000 square feet for growing marijuana, with the remaining 40,000 square feet set aside for office, production and a dispensary.
Lynn Ricci, director of investor relations and corporate communications for Trulieve, said the company is completing the clearance process. “We will be operational in the first half of the year,” she said.
Trulieve will dedicate the start of operations to growing the marijuana plants. Frohmund K. Burger, general manager of the Trulieve site in Holyoke, said growing operations require hospital-like sanitary standards to ensure plants are protected and free from pests or extraneous matter.
The company has raised $ 40 million in capital for the Holyoke project, according to Ricci. “It’s a big older building, and we’re investing a lot in it to make it a top-notch culture,” she said. “It’s quite expensive, but we haven’t used that full amount yet.”
Ricci said Trulieve decided early on to invest in “majority minority communities” like Holyoke. The host community agreement Trulieve signed with Holyoke states that a percentage of employees are from the city, as well as security personnel.
Burger will hire up to 300 employees, including producers, administrative staff, managers, technicians, and scientific and research personnel.