If you think getting past the state licensing clusterfuck is tough enough for proposed medical marijuana dispensaries, just wait until the City of Boston has a chance to further hobble those trying to provide the medication that patients should be legally entitled to by now.
After the commonwealth disqualified Good Chemistry and Green Heart Holistic Health, Boston’s sole remaining applicants, the state Department of Public Health invited four other companies to reapply for un-served counties. As such, three are seeking refuge in Boston.
Mass Medicum Corp. plans to move to Chinatown, while Patriot Care Corp. has sights on Downtown Crossing and JCS Holdings is eyeing Lower Allston. Even if the state looks favorably upon those bids, however, they’ll face a city government that’s demonstrated much contempt for their cause.
While Good Chemistry and Green Heart Holistic Health, two companies with bona fide track records in Colorado and California, were bumbling their way through the haphazard approval process, City Council President Bill Linehan was ignorantly speaking out against cannabis. In his role, Mayor Marty Walsh promised to stop dispensaries from entering the city.
Behind that bluster, the Boston Redevelopment Authority quietly amended the city’s zoning code to ban dispensaries from anywhere zoned for residential use. As per the parameters, marijuana operation anyplace else in the city is considered a “conditional use,” which is municipal jargon that means the government, and in theory the community, must approve the location.
Further complicating matters, state regulation mandates that no dispensary can be sited within 500 feet of schools, daycare facilities, or anyplace else children regularly congregate. That might seem reasonable, until you glimpse the scant locations that all the overlapping rules leave available.
Here’s the thing: In the summer of 2013, the city prepared zoning that essentially indicated where registered dispensaries could legally go, but never actually released a map to applicants. In the case of Good Chemistry, the city sat back and allowed the company to waste time pursuing two different sites that were easily dismissed because they were too close to kids.
“What is important is that there is no official area in the City of Boston that is zoned for marijuana, nor is there any official area where zoning law prohibits a dispensary,” says Karen Schwartzman, who served as a spokesperson for Good Chemistry. “Whether a dispensary can be sited at a particular address is left entirely to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, which examines each individual proposal and makes its finding case by case.”
Good Chemistry’s first attempted location was on Boylston Street, across from a church with a children’s program, which further fueled the NIMBY backlash. Good Chemistry’s second attempt was on Stuart Street, on the border between Chinatown and the Theater District, but that wound up being within 300 feet of a high school for at-risk teens, so the dispensary was not permitted to replace the porn shop that had been there. In their attempt, Green Heart Holistic Health chose a location outside of the 500-foot boundaries, but still faced stern opposition from the type of neighbors who equate methadone to marijuana.
When finally provided with the map, a representative of Mass Medicum, which is seeking the same location that Good Chemistry did on Stuart Street, was surprised to learn that it’s within 500 feet of a school. A spokesperson for Patriot Care, which is seeking a location that appears to be located right on a 500-foot boundary line, did not respond to a request for comment.
Though a representative from JCS Holdings declined to comment on the record, they did say they have consulted maps from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and are confident they’ve zeroed in on a location that is suitable.
Here’s hoping they’re right.