A look back at the 2019 opening of Nature's Remedy

Poster for the classic anti-marijuana film "Reefer Madness." 

An occasional feature starts up this week; Throwback Tuesday. Stories and observations from the last few years from various sources and writers. This week? My column from October 2019, which recapped the opening of Nature's Remedy. With the attention shifting toward Wonderland Cannabis Company as they start the permitting and licensing processes, I thought people might be interested in what a modern, Millbury dispensary is like.

Ever since Massachusetts voters chose to legalize marijuana, I have been waiting for the event that occurred last Friday: the opening of Millbury’s first marijuana vendor. This is amusing because I have never touched the stuff, but this new legal era has made the process as intriguing as everything else involved with this new normal.

Nature’s Remedy had initially set up as a medicinal vendor in town, but amended their application to add retail following the 2016 election. Since that time, Millbury had an ill-advised moratorium extension and the state irresponsibly dragged its feet in the approvals, but our first store is open and I wanted to be one of the first people there. Given the concerns surrounding the roll out of Leicester’s first-in-the-Commonwealth dispensary at Cultivate last November (such as multiple-hour lines and traffic jams), Nature’s Remedy announced appointment-only sales for the first few weeks of opening. I wanted to get in the door that first day and see what the process was, especially given how rumors tend to flow in town surrounding controversial companies and events.

I was connected with Ashley Esper, the Chief Marketing Officer for Nature’s Remedy, who brought me in for a walkthrough on their first day. Ashley, a Grafton resident, got into the marijuana market a couple years ago after learning how much she was not interested in the accounting work she had gone to school for. As someone with Crohn’s Disease who acquired a medicinal marijuana card as soon as they were available, she tripped up on a photograph of Nature’s Remedy founder Robert Carr online and wrote to him about joining the team. She became the fifth member of Nature’s Remedy in the state, and the rest is history. “I love this,” she says with a genuine smile on her face. “I’m so passionate about it.”

This passion for pot, as odd as that might sound to skeptics, comes across in the entire presentation at Nature’s Remedy. I pulled into the parking lot, and was surprised to see a Millbury Police Officer on a detail there. I was later told that it was to make sure the community knew that people would be safe and protected, and my initial fears of people feeling intimidated was not an issue for anyone who had arrived up to that point. Still, walking up to the front door had me a little nervous - legal pot! Who would have thought, right?

In the reception area, I gave my identification and checked in with the front desk; the aroma of marijuana was surprisingly in the air already. As I browsed the materials in the lobby, a staff member brought me into the main retail area, which provides a very modern presentation  compared to the more contemporary rustic look of the exterior. There is a giant video screen surrounded by tastefully artistic plants and glass bongs. Multiple tablet computers surround the area, along with state-required printed materials and educational information provided by Nature’s Remedy about how everything for sale works and best practices for usage. Education is “so important to us,” says Ashley, noting that “a lot of information… and compliance” leads to a positive experience for consumers, especially people like me with no knowledge.

The place was hopping. Even appointment-only, the four or so registers open were very busy, and the “budtenders” appeared confident, knowledgeable, and passionate about what they were doing. Ashley walked me through their menu (which should be supplemented directly from Nature’s Remedy’s own cultivated crops later this fall), and while the pricing, to me, was surprisingly high ($25 for an infused chocolate bar, for example, although I am told that the pricing is better than average from those in the know), you also get the legitimacy of a regulated service which may carry a premium for some consumers. Purchasers get information on what they are buying, tips on usage, and more. It was extremely friendly and professional.

Ashley told me that the opening has been “very smooth,” and praised Millbury officials. “Millbury has been amazing,” she said, saying most of the delays have come from the state side of things. They have prioritized local hires, and are focused on customer service and education. “There is something for everyone here,” Ashley says, pointing out non-psychoactive options like CBD supplements for “people [that] can’t sleep, people looking for exercise recovery…” as options for consumers who are not looking for a high. Still, they want to be a good neighbor in town. “It’s not what first-time visitors would perceive… [it’s an] inviting place.”

“And plenty of parking.”

I did not purchase anything, as I am currently on medication that I am told does not mix well with THC and did not want to risk it. Still, as I walked out, I spoke with two Sutton residents, Chris and Elliott, who did buy. Elliott found the employees “very professional,” and friendly, while Elliott was pleased because he “had some questions that they easily answered.” The couple had previously visited dispensaries in Uxbridge and Northbridge, as well as the Northampton dispensary that opened alongside Cultivate in Leicester, and they saw Nature’s Remedy as very similar to Northampton’s retailer.

Overall, this is such a net good for Millbury I am almost shocked we landed it at all. If someone hopped in a time machine and told me a decade ago about the pleasant experience I had at the legal marijuana store in 2019, I would have laughed. I look forward to not only what Nature’s Remedy accomplishes for the community, but what the future holds as the regulatory structure adjusts. This is a big, big win for us as a town, and we are lucky we ended up with a group like this one.