EHCA Votes in Favor of Retail Marijuana Shop

November 2, 2018
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The plan to place an adult use retail marijuana facility on the heavily trafficked Meridian Street near Central Square, the East Boston Social Centers, a bus stop and the neighborhood’s shopping district was met with resistance at two previous community meetings.

However, in a close vote at their October meeting Eagle Hill Civic Association members voted 14 to 11 to support Berkshire Roots, Inc.’s plans to open the marijuana dispensary at 253 Meridian St.

Berkshire Roots is the largest grower of cannabis in Western Massachusetts and was the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

At last month’s Eagle Hill Civic Association meeting and a subsequent community meeting last month sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, Berkshire Roots’s attorney Andrea Nucifero said his client is intending to use and redevelop the retail space at 253 Meridian Street into a retail marijuana dispensary.  The proposal for the Meridian Street pot shop includes transforming the 1,400 sq. ft. retail space on the first floor of the building into sleek and stylish dispensary with façade improvement and subtle and understated signage.

Nucifero said there would be no cultivation, processing, or packaging on site. There would also be no product consumption on site and the product would not be visible from the street.

EHCA President Debra Cave voiced her concern at last week’s meeting.

“I just have a concern about the location,” said Cave. “It is sandwiched between two schools, the O’Donnell and Umana Schools, and it is right near the Social Centers. I know this is for adults but I don’t know if it is a good match for a residential neighborhood. I see lots of children and lots of kids everyday in that location.”

Nucifero said that the City of Boston identified the issue of keeping these adult use retail shops away from children by creating zoning and specific zones the business can be located.

“This location does fall within the permitted zones as defined by the city,” said Nucifero. “The city established a 500-foot setbacks away from where children congregate, a 500 foot setback away from schools and the shop can not be within a half mile of any other marijuana dispensary location. There is a very limited number of place this use is actually permitted and this address happens to be one and adheres to all three rules put into place by the city.”

There was also some concern over security. However, unlike a liquor store where access is relatively easy for underage people the facility would follow a rigorous protocol before people can even enter the dispensary.

There will be a security guard at the front door. When a potential customer enters he or she must present either a valid Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Card or a valid state license or identification card proving the customer is over 21 years of age. Between the front door and the actual dispensary is a locked door. The front door and internal ‘locked’ door are never open at the same time. Once the customer is approved by the security guard an employee inside the dispensary would have to activate a buzzer for the internal door to allow the customer inside.

“It’s a very strict and rigorous process,” said Nucifero.

The proposal had City Councilor Lydia Edwards calling for a hearing to discuss potential policy changes affecting the siting of enterprises serving cannabis as well as alcohol in the immediate vicinity of substance abuse treatment facilities during last weeks Council hearing.

Edwards pointed to the proposed dispensaries close proximity to North Suffolk Mental Health, a agency that helps addicts with their substance abuse problems.

Currently, the City of Boston regulates the distance between cannabis establishments at one-half mile and creates a 500-foot buffer between such businesses and K-12 schools. The City also regulates businesses that serve or sell alcohol through licensing and zoning, but has not enacted a similar distance-based buffer.

Zoning changes typically do not impact existing enterprises but would apply to new development and could potentially apply to substantially renovated buildings. The hearing will explore whether such a buffer should be created, potential impacts and how to create parity between industries.