HIGH DEMAND

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Brian Sager & Sara Grayson

Nantucket’s first two Marijuana dispensaries ready for the high season.

When the first two recreational marijuana dispensaries opened in Massachusetts last November, customers from across the state descended upon them in droves. The wait lasted hours, causing traffic backups and requiring additional police detail. By three in the afternoon, the dispensaries started turning customers away because they were running out of products. Since then, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has approved more than a dozen new pot shops around the state, including Nantucket’s first dispensary called The Green Lady. Preparing to open its doors next month on Amelia Drive, The Green Lady is up against a unique set of obstacles in meeting what will undoubtedly be some pretty high demand.

The Green Lady was the first dispensary to earn the Nantucket Select Board’s approval after a tedious two-year application process. “They had all of their ducks in a row,” said Rita Higgins, the Select Board member who sat on the seven-member committee charged with determining which dispensaries would open. “They were incredibly well-prepared and persistent, which benefited them on the state level as well as on the town’s.” Now, after the Cannabis Control Commission gave them the green light to start cultivation last March, The Green Lady is racing to stock their shelves in time for the high season.

“We have to create everything we offer in-house,” says Nicole Campbell, who owns and operates The Green Lady with her husband, Rupert. This is one of the major hurdles of doing business as a dispensary on Nantucket. Although recreational marijuana has been legalized on the state level, federal law prohibits cannabis from being shipped or flown over federal waters. So The Green Lady must grow, manufacture, package and sell all of its cannabis products on the island.

“It’s quite a feat,” says Campbell, who has been coming to Nantucket for more than thirty years and now lives here year-round. “We have to be totally self-sufficient, while nobody else in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has to do that.” The Campbells operate The Green Lady with help from their two daughters and chief grower Mike Grasso. “We’re a true mom-and-pop- style family business,” Grasso says. “Nantucket is known for its small-town charm and we’re excited to participate in the local economy and contribute to the creation of a uniquely local cannabis industry.” Together, they’re creating their own lines of flower, edibles, concentrates,
oils, vape cartridges and pre-rolled joints.

If the $15 million in sales netted by the first two dispensaries in the first seven weeks of being open in Massachusetts are any indication, The Green Lady will have a lot of growing to do this spring and summer. Their team will have to harvest the plants and then manufacture and package all of their various offerings. “It’s like if you were going to be a wine producer and had to grow your own grapes, harvest your own grapes, produce your own wine and then have a store to sell it,” Campbell says. Connected to their retail space on Amelia Drive is a sophisticated cultivation facility, an extraction lab and a commercial kitchen. Their indoor growing facility is powered by energy- efficient LED lights, and they’ve invested in a cutting-edge Supercritical CO2 Extractor to safely and cleanly glean THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) from their cannabis plants for oils and other products. “We’re totally vertically integrated,” Campbell says.

The Green Lady will not be the only dispensary on the island. While Campbell and her team began planting their first crops, a heated debate raged over who should be awarded the remaining dispensary permit on Nantucket. The Select Board was torn between ACK Natural, a dispensary led by islander Mike Sullivan and Boston hedge fund manager Doug Leighton, and Mass Medi-Spa, an independent nonprofit backed by the cannabis conglomerate Acreage Holdings. In early March, the Select Board’s special seven-person cannabis committee deemed both applicants equally qualified for the permit after a Request for Qualifications process. This kicked the decision back to the rest of the board, which ultimately decided to award the permit to ACK Natural on March 20th.

The next day, the Boston Globe published a Spotlight investigation revealing that Acreage had been trying to circumvent the Massachusetts mandate limiting companies from owning more than three dispensaries through high-interest loans and management contracts with nonprofits like Mass Medi-Spa. As the story described, “Documents reviewed by the Globe show a loan of up to $8 million from an Acreage subsidiary to the [Mass Medi-Spa], at a 15 percent interest rate, and involvement in virtually every aspect of the dispensary’s operation, from construction and hiring to public relations.” Led by Kevin Murphy and high-profile directors such as former Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, Acreage appears to be on a mission to become the “Coca-Cola of cannabis,” as Murphy is quoted as saying in the Globe.

Instead, Nantucket’s second dispensary, ACK Natural, will be entirely homegrown, so to speak. A former teacher, Sullivan lives on Nantucket with his family. He first became interested in the cannabis industry after learning about the healing powers of CBD in treating patients with epilepsy. More than two years ago, Sullivan joined forces with Leighton, a longtime friend on the island, to begin the application process of opening a dispensary on Nantucket.

Since 2013 Leighton and his Boston-based hedge fund Dutchess Capital have invested heavily in the cannabis industry, backing more than a dozen companies. But with ACK Natural, Leighton saw a different opportunity. “This one is personal,” he says. “I want to ensure that ACK Natural mirrors the look and feel of Nantucket and its people. Our goal is to be a stellar corporate citizen by giving back to the community while operating a best-in-breed retail cannabis experience.” Rounding out the core ACK Natural team is Zach Harvey, a longtime Nantucket summer resident who has served as a consultant in the cannabis space and became an expert in the complex science of extraction. “Being in the cannabis space in Massachusetts since 2014, Doug and I have cultivated exceptional design and operations teams,” says Harvey. “We will implement cutting-edge technology in both our cultivation footprint via two-tiered LED light fixtures, cannabis-specific HVAC, nutrient, and irrigation systems and in our extraction and processing facility.”

“We hope to be up and running a year from now,” Sullivan says. “We’re going to build a building that has everything vertically integrated, so we will do all our growing, extraction and testing in there.” At press time, ACK Natural’s next hurdle was getting approval from the Building Department to break ground off Arrowhead Drive, out by the airport, for a facility that will include an eight-hundred-square-foot dispensary. “It’s going to be like the Genius Bar from Apple,” Sullivan describes. “It will be appointment only, booked online, which should alleviate traffic. However, medical patients will always be given priority.”

Unlike The Green Lady, ACK Natural will not be offering baked goods. Instead, they will sell a line of flower, pre-rolled joints, oils and other products under their brand, Altar. “We feel like we have a very good blueprint to get our dispensary up and running and producing the best- quality, highly tested, precisely dosed products,” Sullivan says. ACK Natural will also have the benefit of observing and learning from The Green Lady’s inaugural year. But unlike their battle for the final permit with Acreage, Sullivan and his team view The Green Lady as a partner, not a competitor. One thing’s for sure, come summertime, there will be plenty of green to go around.

Written By
More from Robert Cocuzzo

THE REEL DEAL

Charlie Larner’s Nantucket-style dining destinations are booming in Boston. When longtime Nantucket...
Read More