By Rebecca Lurye • The Hartford Courant

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — Early Tuesday morning, retired trucker Roger Crocker finished his overnight shift as an Uber driver and pointed his car north to Massachusetts, where for the first time in his life, legal pot was waiting.

At 3:30 a.m., the West Haven man was fifth to arrive at the Northampton cannabis store — one of two Massachusetts dispensaries to begin selling recreational marijuana Tuesday.

Over the next 4½ hours, the line behind the 68-year-old Crocker grew. Many were intoxicated by the prospect of witnessing history and taking a piece home with them.

“I’m gonna have a little bit more fun as I get older, ‘cause tomorrow is promised to nobody, certainly not somebody my age,” Crocker said before New England Treatment Access opened its doors at 8 a.m.

Dozens of people woke early in towns across Connecticut on Tuesday to stand in sleet and snow outside NETA in Northampton and Cultivate in Leicester for the start of recreational marijuana sales, more than two years after Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question for legalization.

Connecticut residents said taking part in the occasion — and stocking up for Thanksgiving — was a stronger motivator than laws in Connecticut against possession of even small amounts of marijuana.

“It felt like too cool an opportunity to miss out on,” said one man before placing his order at NETA’s sleek, concrete counter. The mechanical engineer from Hartford, Connecticut, stopped in Northampton on his way to spend Thanksgiving with friends in Massachusetts.

Another customer, a Middletown, Connecticut, woman who got in line around 5 a.m., said she considered the trip a calculated risk. She was out of weed and could go without, or chance a $150 ticket bringing it back to Connecticut.

What to expect as Massachusetts pot shops finally open

Those Connecticut customers declined to give their names, like many other non-Massachusetts residents at NETA. Some cited conservative employers, while others said friends and family would disapprove of marijuana use and flouting the law.

It was mostly excitement, not worries, that flowed through the lines Tuesday.

Every few feet, people chatted about marijuana histories and planned their purchases from a menu of fresh packed buds, pre-rolled joints, vape pens, Belgian chocolate bars, fruit-flavored gummies and more.

“I’m going to get the five-joint variety pack,” said Eric Leidberg, 56, of Greenfield, Massachusetts. “It appeals to my sense of absurdity.”

Leidberg, a cook at a mental health and addiction treatment center, didn’t expect marijuana legalization to come to fruition. He thinks it’s a common sense policy, considering alcohol and cigarettes are legal and linked to significant health problems.

“They should have always made it like this,” said Leidberg, who got to NETA around 4:30 a.m. “Everybody waiting in line to get their stuff, it’s nice.”

By 8 a.m., the line of customers wound through the perimeter of the parking lot, down the street and around the corner.

Peter Brown, a spokesman for NETA, said more than a thousand people had come through by early afternoon.

Their wait was short compared to the years marijuana proponents have spent fighting for legalization, and that Massachusetts’ cannabis industry and regulators have spent planning Tuesday’s launch.

The moment wasn’t lost on young people, either, who have grown up in the age of medical cannabis — first passed in California in 1996 — and recreational marijuana — legalized in 10 states and Washington, D.C., since 2012.

Crocker said he made up his mind to show up. He would have left if he wasn’t among the first at NETA.

As it was, he spent hours shivering against the sleet in an old windbreaker and his Vietnam War veterans hat, warmed by the thought of vapes and edibles.

Crocker said he smoked marijuana as a young man, and then put down the habit. Now, he uses the drug for back pain, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Once inside the store, Crocker learned his patience had been rewarded. He received his purchase for just $1, a “thank you” NETA extended to its first few customers. His face still too cold to smile, Crocker broke down and cried.

“For years we’re saying, ‘When are they going to give us recreational marijuana?’ And today’s the day,” Crocker said.

Crocker said he hopes to find the same freedom in Connecticut under Gov.-elect Ned Lamont, who supports legalizing pot.

“Connecticut’s dropping the ball,” he said. “There’s money to be made and they’re being foolish not to do it. The money’s there, the water’s in the well, let’s go.”

21808618