What We Learned from Today's Boston City Council Hearing on Medical Marijuana


As 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 . . .

-BPHC 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,” said Ferrer.

-Though 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.

-The 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.

-The 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.

-Ferrer 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?).

-Everybody 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.

-Despite 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.

-When 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.

-Steering 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.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Phlog Archives