In the Weeds
Cannabis culture grows in the Berkshires
Photos by Jake Borden
Before last winter, to get pot in the Berkshires, one went underground. There were “secret grows” in the woods and in dim-lit basements, and seeds from friends living on the West Coast, all relatively hidden from the watchful gaze of police helicopters in early autumn. But the sky is quiet now, thanks to a vote in November 2016 that legalized marijuana for recreational use in Massachusetts. Since then, Berkshire citizens of various ages and from various walks of life—teachers, college kids, farmers, seniors—are taking advantage of the herb that Hunter S. Thompson deemed “the greatest staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruit.”
“There is still an overwhelming insecurity about farming this plant,” says 23-year-old Ezra Marcus of Monterey. “When I talk to older people—baby boomers who are trying it for the first time since their teen years when it was a felony—there is still that fear and some of the stigma. But people are starting to talk about it and enjoy it; grandparents, co-workers, friends. It’s out in the open.”
Marcus, who is finishing his senior year at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS Amherst, is tossing around the idea of an organic, soil-grown cannabis business. But for now, he’s experimenting with growing low-tech, quality cannabis.
Eric Vincelette of Lenox is fairly outspoken when it comes to opening up cannabis regulations for personal and medicinal use, citing research studies and anec- dotes that point to weed as an effective tool to helping opioid addicts stay clean, and to treating PTSD, cancer, Parkinson’s, and other diseases.
“We’re trained to be paranoid, but cannabis use is a lifestyle, especially here in the Berkshires,” says Vincelette. “Most people aren’t just waking up and blazing on the couch eating Cheetos. You can be a responsible, hard-working parent and still use cannabis.”
(Photo above: Eric Vincelette, with wife Bindu, mother-in-law Karen Nelson, and family, uses cannabis oil in his battle against stage-3 multiple myeloma.)
Once just a recreational user, Vincelette, 44, now uses cannabis (oil and sublingual tablets) as part of a rigorous treatment to fight cancer. Diagnosed in 2015 with stage 3 multiple myeloma, the Berkshire native and father of three opted out of traditional chemotherapy, and with the support of his wife, Bindu, decided to seek treatment outside of the U.S. at the CHIPSA Hospital in Tijuana.
Part of the treatment protocol—along with the health Vitamin C IVs, long stints in a hyperbaric chamber, and juicing— is the aggressive use of cannabis oil (specifically Rick Simpson Oil or RSO) for the initial treatment of 60 grams in 90 days. Vincelette now takes nightly maintenance doses the size of a rice grain. Eric and Bindu also use cannabis—leaves, buds, stems, and all— to make tinctures, salves, oils, juices, and other compounds. It has been life-changing for them.
“We see it as medicine. Our kids see it as medicine that I’m using to stay pain-free and to heal from cancer. For me it’s a lifetime journey now, and it helps me do my best to feel good every day,” he says.
The Vincelettes are matter-of-fact about their reasons for utilizing cannabis, and they aren’t alone. The general consensus here is that pot is a multi-use herb that can provide relief and relaxation to chronic pain sufferers, people with anxiety, and those who prefer weed over alcohol to be able to unwind on a Friday night. Most people who partake— whether through pills, oils, baked goods, or the ever-popular vape pen (smoking a joint or a pipe is rarer these days because it’s a health hit to the lungs)—often dance the line between medicinal and recreational use.
John Mullen, CEO of Berkshire Roots,a 26,000-square-foot dispensary at 501 Dalton Avenue (the former Salvation Army building) in Pittsfield slated to open this coming winter, knows the ups and downs of cannabis culture, and says the opportunity in the county is huge for everyone.
“There’s a lot to be gained here in Berkshire County. We have a chance to help people with chronic pain, to help opioid addicts and help give fuel to people fighting cancer,” says Mullen, who, until recently, was an RN at Berkshire Medical Center.
Berkshire Roots, which will employ up to 50 people, will grow the plants indoors and make all of the products it sells. This includes 23 strains of high-quality plants, as well as pre-rolls, vape cartridges, edibles, tinctures, topicals, and concentrates. Currently, there are upwards of 3,500 plants growing at the facility and no state limit as to how many plants can be grown.
To augment his company’s medicinal license, Mullen will be applying for a recreational license next April (during the state’s annual open-application period), which will allow his product to be sold to anyone over 21, with or without a prescription. “No one is sure how long the review process will take, but we could be supplying the recreational market as early as July from our Pittsfield location,” he says.
While the gray area between state and federal laws remains gray, Marcus is excited about the potential for people to explore what cannabis has to offer, from medicinal and recreational use to agricultural and business opportunities.
“When you look at other states where legalization has happened, there is more of a festive vibe, even a community feel, to it,” Marcus says. “And when you think of all the satellite companies that are developing around cannabis—“pop-up meals” featuring cannabis as the theme ingredient on the menu, Keurig-type vape pods, reviewers, delivery services—it’s a defining moment for all of us.”
Current Rules for MA residents
›› You can’t smoke weed in public.
›› There will be at least a 20 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana.
›› You can’t sell pot edibles. That could change.
›› Retail cannabis shops could open in July 2018.
›› Hemp is now considered an agricultural product.
›› You must be at least 21 to buy/use/grow/have marijuana.
›› Each household can have up to 12 plants growing for personal use.
›› You can have 10 ounces of marijuana at your primary residence, one ounce outside the house.
›› You can give a gift of up to one ounce to a friend, relative, coworker.
CULTIVATING CANNABIS In addition to popular strains of weed grown mostly on the West Coast, Berkshire home growers are experimenting with seed diversity to develop a heartier, “heirloom” plant.