It’s a bleak, gray windy day on the eastern side of interstate 95. The kind of day where wind cuts through skin, never mind clothing; a stupid day to walk a couple blocks in nothing but a jean jacket. Which is how I find myself, in Pawtucket, walking to Mother Earth Dispensary. And which is how I also find myself minutes later in the passenger seat of a heated Benz, luxuriously retracing previously cursed steps through freezing streets to get my forgotten ID. Joe Pakuris has one hand on the wheel, one arm out the window and is gesturing animatedly to an employee passing by. There are people from all corners of RI shuttling, huddled up, toward the beckoning doors of Mother Earth. The masked bouncer in all black stands to let them in, their IDs are quickly scanned behind a desk and then they are allowed free range into the marbled acropolis of legalization.
Even though we’re only there for an interview, Pakuris can’t let me in without an ID; a testament to how serious he takes his position as owner of the final winner in RI’s weed dispensary lottery. The tall, lightly bearded man with inky gelled hair kindly insists on giving me a ride back to retrieve my entry ticket. Pakuris has stark blue eyes, and he turns them towards me in the close confines of the cream-toned interior. “I fucking love it, I fucking love weed.”
A trope warmly associated with marijuana, this love for weed manifested itself in the antithesis of joint-smoking dime-bagged doobies in the back of a hotboxed v-dub. Instead, the heavy handled, windowless doors of Mother Earth swing open to reveal a modernist storefront; oblong displays of different types of product rise from glistening marbled floors, uniformed and smiling attendants stand behind two opposing desks, all centered around a rain-glass fountain that features an emerald woman’s silhouette, her hair styled in three rivulets of a marijuana leaf.
Pakuris also owns Kitchen and Countertop of New England (KCNE), a sister company that shares the same building as the budding dispensary that is Mother Earth. “Cabinets, countertops, and cannabis, you’ve got one place to go.”
We’re back in the far corner at a white marbled table, he sits easily with hands folded behind his head and I watch a customer lean over a display case in the reflection from a grid of square mirrors. “We have created the best cannabis chocolate experience in the state. We want to give the ultimate experience, take high-end practices like what we do for KCNE and bring that to cannabis. Give a POW presentation. We individually hand-wrap every gummy, a level of fucking commitment.”
Mother Earth Dispensary provides for a wide spectrum of customers, from suburban moms to chronic cancer patients, Pakuris believes that cannabis offers a little bit of something to everybody. “Now that I have a retail facility, I see that people use this medicinally. I was moved by what I learned from the medical patient population of RI, how people get off opioid addiction through using cannabis. People who suffer from chronic illness use cannabis instead of pain pills. The need and the medicinal benefit has totally changed the way I look at it.”
Pakuris offers a tour, and we pad softly over the warmly lit storefront to a black curtain on the opposite wall. He lifts the curtain and I am immersed in a less colorful, 21+ version of Roahl Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Down long hallways wait mysterious doors, doors Pakuris opens with Wonka-esque charisma. The edible-making room contains a long table surrounded by bakers squeezing chocolate into dime-sized moldings, sprinkling them with handmade crushed cookies.
Whisking me up a flight of stairs, Pakuris introduces the complicated world of dab-making, with a table of flushed engineers huddled over a conglomerate of steel pipes and pulleys. Pakuris looks at me with incredulous, eye-brows raised, “I have never even seen that before.” He shakes his head, laughing as we leave them behind to work their magic.
Down another hallway, up another set of stairs, we find a group of trimmers bent dutifully over their bounty. A healthy yellow glow emanates from Mother Earth’s own two grow rooms, a comfortable light space with men in white anti-contamination suits, bustling from plant tray to plant tray on rolling ladders. I lean over one of the buds to inspect its intricate purple crystals. Pakuris gazes out on the sea of green, “It’s such a complex plant that releases cannabinoids, it is still not completely understood because it is federally illegal. There has been more research in LSD than cannabis. But what you smoke here is 100% safe.”
We end back where I entered, and as the piercing wind gusts in from the frequent entrance of customers, I find myself desperately wishing to go back to the magical golden world of the weed factory. What Pakuris is manufacturing behind the scenes may seem fantastical, but it is deeply entrenched in realistic needs. A man in an automatic wheelchair drifts through the open doors, an older man with a bandana up to his nose and watery, tired eyes. Pakuris shifts his eyes between us two, “he comes here all the time. See, this is who really needs what we’re doing. This is who we’re really helping.”