noted in the Phoenix and a follow-up blog post two weeks ago,
the Boston City Council appears to be competently prepping for the
arrival of medical marijuana. As the state Department of Public
Health (DPH) irons out innumerable details, councilors here and
elsewhere are primarily tasked with figuring out where dispensaries
will go. This morning, Councilor Rob Consalvo led a hearing on the
zoning issue, featuring delegates from the Boston Police Department
(BPD), the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), and the Boston
Redevelopment Authority (BRA), among others. Here's what we learned .
Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer stated early on in the hearing that Mayor
Tom Menino, in the immediate wake of Question 3 passing, asked her
and others to work together and across bureaucracies to ease the
dispensary process. Judging by the seeming unanimity of their
testimonies, it looks like all parties have heeded the request. “The
mayor was clear that he wants to follow the will of the voters,”
changes in the zoning code are not unheard of – Consalvo
says he's seen seven such adjustments in his decade-long tenure –
they are only made when situations warrant them, as is the clearly
the case here. To that end, the designation process – of where
dispensaries can and can't go – will be long and tedious, and
involve active coordination between various agencies.
BRA already made the first move toward zoning. At a meeting last
Thursday, board members decided to propose giving dispensaries their
own unique distinction under the “healthcare uses” sub-category.
Certain clinics and retail establishments (i.e. drug stores) also
fall into that silo, but representatives from several agencies noted
that neither of those two categories will apply to marijuana. The
board's next powwow is in January, and you can almost count on more
medical agenda items.
BRA's move, as I understand it, is essentially to serve as insurance against a
future dispensary owner somehow finagling a storefront smack in the
middle of Mass Ave, or in a public school gymnasium. A lot of things
will be up in the air until the DPH lays down the law – that's
supposed to happen by May 1, but could come later – but one thing
that's for sure is that the city of Boston will decide where
marijuana treatment centers can and can't go.
of the BPHC said that her office is working closely with the DPH, and
that they will continue to communicate throughout the regulatory
process. “Obviously they understand that there are huge local
concerns,” she said. At the same time, she stresses that there are
major challenges ahead; one zoning-related item, for example, that
the city needs the state to lead on, is whether cultivation centers,
treatment spots, and other marijuana operations will have to be
lumped together (they probably won't, but like with everything else,
who the hell knows?).
wants dispensaries, but no one wants too many. Of the 35 licenses statewide
that could be issued in 2013, no more than five can be in Suffolk
County, which includes Chelsea and Revere in addition to Boston.
Councilor Bill Linehan, whose district includes Southie and the South
End, gently brought up the issue of methadone centers, and how they
cause serious community disturbances. Though he was careful to note
that medical weed spots are different, the councilor did introduce
the idea that they could have a negative impact on neighborhoods.
being mostly in line with the others, in their turn BPD
representatives also focused on the side of caution, noting that
dispensaries can lead to complications with local drug traffickers,
and even upticks in violent crime. (As they say in congress – show
me a study that says that, and I'll show you two dozen that state the
exact opposite, plus some that show how crime, as well as alcohol and
drug use, decrease around dispensaries.) This back-and-forth will
certainly continue, though all signs point to police and dispensary
owners working together for maximum safety.
it's time for dispensaries to start applying for basic occupancy and
other permits, the city's Inspectional Services Department (ISD) will
also play a role. I don't think it's any different than the role
they'd play in green-lighting any other kind of business, but it's a
role nonetheless, and they seem to already be in talks with other
agencies about streamlining services.
the hearing, councilors Consalvo, Linehan, and Mark Ciommo asked a
lot of the right questions, and seem to have the best interests of
patients – and all residents, for that matter – as their top
priority. From everything we've seen so far, their peers seem to
share those views. With that said, in light of their quizzical facial
reactions to certain topics and conundrums – say like how, as the
statute now reads, patients will be allowed to grow their own weed
until the DPH sets some rules – it's clear that councilors are just
beginning to comprehend how much confusion lies ahead.