Earlier this month, the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal deferred its ruling on a proposed dispensary on Milk Street for another month, the hope being that the operating group, Patriot Care, will be able to work out objections from adversaries who are fighting against medical marijuana coming to Boston.
At the aforementioned hearing, which was well-attended by outspoken parties on both sides, Boston City Council President Bill Linehan, who is helping lead the fight against the downtown dispensary, repeatedly stated that his problem is not with medical marijuana, per se, but rather with the centralized location.
“[The dispensary] needs to be near … a medical facility, a place where people go for medical services, not for financial services, not for retail services, not live next to, not work next to,” Linehan said. “I support them finding the right location, but this is not the location.”
In his unlettered spiel, Linehan neglected to cite any existing laws or statutes that require dispensaries to be near medical facilities, probably because none exist. Interestingly, the council president has never asked for CVS or Walgreens to set up exclusively in close proximity to healthcare services. So what’s his reason? According to Linehan: “We have businesses that have spent millions if not billions to improve this neighborhood and this sends the wrong message.”
In these actions, the president is showing his bigotry. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but it can and should be considered bigotry when people stereotype a class of citizens as dragging a neighborhood down—especially in this case, since studies show that dispensaries improve communities and reduce opiate overdoses. Take, for example, the 2014 JAMA study on “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” which shows a 25% reduction in overdoses in states with functioning medical marijuana programs.
Also at the hearing, Milk Street Cafe owner Marc Epstein expressed opposition based on a lack of parking in the area, even after admitting that he’s never opposed any other business from opening in the area. In this case, on his presumption that dispensaries bring absurd amounts of traffic, it’s not about bigotry against patients, but rather about parking.
Representing Patriot Care, former Boston City Council President Mike Ross explained that the company’s existing Washington, DC dispensary has already improved its surrounding neighborhood, which has also seen increased property values of late. Ross additionally pointed out that many Patriot Care patients in Boston will use public transportation, hence making for less traffic woes than are imagined.
In the mix, at least four current councilors—Matt O’Malley, Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, and Tito Jackson—sent representatives to read statements in support of the dispensary. So at least we know where they stand. What’s less clear though is what is happening behind the scenes, as Mayor Marty Walsh has openly opposed marijuana reform. Regardless, despite the many roadblocks, Patriot Care spokesperson Dennis Kunian remains hopeful. As I exited the hearing last week, he assured, “Mike, don’t worry about it. We’re going to work this out, trust me.”
Let’s hope so.