If I gave a damn how cops and public health officials felt about weed, I would have stopped puffing in plain sight years ago and sought a city job that tests my pee. Nevertheless, I wasted nearly three entire hours of my afternoon today at Boston City Hall, where councilors Bill Linehan and Frank Baker held an awfully offensive and unnecessary hearing on the future of Hub pot dispensaries.
It was a more ridiculous show than even could have been expected, nearly as insane as one of those unfortunate all-male congressional hearings about birth control. Even if an onlooker willfully ignored the baseline irony that these irrational actors court and coddle despicable foreclosure farms and evil companies while frowning upon weed ops, the scene was still absurd. From the moment councilors began yapping to their asking asinine questions, it was the stuff mockumentaries are made of.
Steering things, City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley opened on a hopeful note. “This is not a debate,” she said. “This is about regulation.” Also the chair of the Committee on Healthy Women, Families and Communities, Pressley asked for brief comments that considered those parameters–a request that was ignored in virtually every breath over the ensuing several hours, beginning with some genuinely kooky talk from Linehan, whose idea this whole formal ordeal was in the first place.
Though he claimed to not be “against [medical marijuana] in any way, shape, or form,” the council president pegged the day “an opportunity to vet” dispensaries, from “potential uses” to “potential shortfalls.” Never mind that none of the invited guests–representatives from various municipal agencies–are experts on medicinal weed.
In lieu of professional advice, Linehan opened the suggestion box by saying pot shops should be near medical facilities. Not to be outdone, other members chimed in with their own baseless recommendations. Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty spoke of a system vulnerable to “fraud and abuse.” In his learned opinion, marijuana should be sold by pharmacies, and nowhere close to schools. He wouldn’t be the first or the last to pitch school zone hysteria, or to ignore the fact that everything from OxyContin to McDiabetes is aggressively pushed within uncontested proximity to youth institutions citywide.
In a short fit of sanity, Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer conceded that the vast majority of marijuana patients wouldn’t likely loiter outside of dispensaries. Her claim, however, didn’t convince Flaherty, who, in the most ludicrous statement of the afternoon, predicted that if pot facilities are placed near treatment clinics, cannabis customers will probably exchange kind buds for methadone with junk fiends in the parking lot.
In their turns, rookie Hyde Park Councilor Tim McCarthy agreed with Flaherty, also equating dispensaries to recovery clinics, while West Roxbury Councilor Matt O’Malley implied that it’s harder to build a backyard shed in Boston than it is to open a dispensary, Councilor-at-Large Steve Murphy fought to atone for a non-opposition letter he regrettably gave one dispensary, and Back Bay neophyte Josh Zakim expressed vast generic interest in “the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”
Though it’s difficult to have pity for any of them, of the bunch, it’s hard not to feel a little badly for Roxbury Councilor Tito Jackson, who spoke of the difficulty he’s had saving and rejuvenating the Southampton Street area, near the location one of two Boston dispensaries is slated for. Noting that the neighborhood already has a level four biolab, a massive methadone clinic, and a county jail, Jackson pleaded, “I’m not saying ‘not in my backyard,’ but it can’t all be in our backyard.”
Sadly, Jackson seems to have fallen for the same old ruses set up over generations by prohibitionists ranging from the alcohol lobby to paper manufacturers who feared the obvious utility of hemp. Like the councilor himself conceded, “marijuana helps people.” I’d add that it helps far beyond the medical realm; I’m not sure how many Roxbury locals have jobs at the biolab, but I’d bet that Jackson could negotiate for neighbors to land most of the dispensary careers.
In spite of those clear opportunities, for more than two hours, councilors pried at ways to further complicate things by inviting any number of alphabet soup agencies into the process. At one point, members even welcomed news that the Boston Regional Intelligence Center–the police division tooled to counter terrorism and coordinate with federal authorities–will be providing background research on facility operators.
Outlining the role of cops, BPD Superintendent Robert Merner offered testimony based not on statistics, but rather on empirical and anecdotal hunches, even citing an illicit Roxbury grow house he once busted in attempting to describe what a dispensary might look like. Rather than question the comparison, the councilors profusely thanked him for participating, along with everybody else in attendance. In all, there must have been at least a hundred such gratuitous nods, including several to the Boston Redevelopment Authority impediment on hand who inadvertently explained how zoning for dispensaries is made so that the least ambulatory patients have to trek outside of residential areas or use delivery services.
Amidst the uninformed grandstanding, a number of councilors expressed disgust over the failure of officials from the state Department of Public Health to attend the hearing. Their righteousness was laughable considering how unprepared a lot of them were. Despite co-sponsoring the order, at one point, Dorchester Councilor Baker asked one of the provisional license holders to “explain the application process.” Though a mere blip in the hours-long exercise in blind stupidity, it stuck out as a massively humiliating moment.
While most councilors claimed to know so little about pot that, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think they were all chronic burnouts exhaling a smoke screen, there was some justice when provisional dispensary operators Good Chemistry–whose proposed storefront in the Back Bay on Boylston Street has raised more than a few manicured eyebrows–stepped up to the plate. Facing inane inquiries from Linehan, reps from that operation spoke of their flawless track record in Denver, their choice of Boylston Street for its “central location near the T,” and plans to have approximately 15 to 20 pounds in stock at most times. Attorneys for the business also silenced the concern that, because of their nonprofit status, dispensaries won’t have to pay property taxes. They won’t own the building, so they will indeed pitch in their fair share.
I split shortly after, but according to Universal Hub, “Andrew D’Angelo, executive director of Green Heart Holistic Health, which proposed the Southampton Street dispensary, said experience in Oakland shows a dispensary can actually improve a troubled neighborhood,” and “added he’s getting a little frustrated with councilors and others questioning the dispensary’s motives and the state process. ‘There are people in this city that are suffering, that are near death’ and need marijuana now,’ he said.”
All of the above noted, if you care enough to measure how much Boston’s city council actually cares about patients, consider that they rapped in circles for in excess of two hours while medical pot users–some of whom are in wheelchairs, others of whom suffer from a number of debilitating ailments–waited patiently. Through all the meaningless and self-indulgent soliloquies, this hideous display spoke volumes about how blatantly these pols have disregarded those with limited mobility.
For a while now, we’ve heard repeatedly–including at today’s hearing–about how Massachusetts stands to take the lessons learned in other states and apply best practices to our own processes. Lovely of a sound bite as that is, chumps like oh so many Boston councilors conveniently ignore the facts and studies culled from observations elsewhere, hence their repeated claims and worries that dispensaries will bring inevitable danger to whatever neighborhoods they land in. We should be looking at a bright future, but this was by all means a sad day for a city where you’d hope officials would study up enough to learn that marijuana clinics are as safe as they are ready to embrace.