By Seth Daniel
Special to the Gazette
An amendment to the City’s Zoning Code that would put in place a half-mile buffer zone on medical marijuana dispensaries, long championed by Councilor Michael Flaherty, passed unanimously this month at the City’s Zoning Commission.
It is now in effect and prevents medical marijuana dispensaries from locating side-by-side or at multiple locations within a neighborhood or business district. The amendment, which previously passed the City Council and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board, prevents any medical marijuana dispensary from locating within a half-mile of another facility.
Only one dispensary in Boston now exists, on Milk Street downtown, though a second in East Boston has been given the official blessing of the Council. Two proposals in Allston are still pending the Council’s review.
“I’m proud to say the amendment passed unanimously,” said Flaherty recently, noting that he began his advocacy when he filed an order in March 2015. “We don’t want to be a medical marijuana city or a pot zone. We don’t want one area of the city to become the pot zone. Many can remember the Combat Zone and it took decades to solve that problem. We realize the importance of medical marijuana and being able to access the treatment, but my concern was that we would see three, four, or five stores pop up right next to each other downtown or in a neighborhood business district. It’s important to have a variety of businesses.”
Flaherty said in doing research in other areas of the country, particularly during an official visit to Denver—where recreational marijuana use is legal—they found that pot shops often took over traditional business districts because they were able to pay higher rents, supplanting the dry cleaners, bakeries, and flower shops.
“The rents that pot shops there were commanding, when the leases come up for the dry cleaners, or bakeries or flower shops, the landlords would lease the spaces to pot shops because of the higher rents they can pay,” he said.
Looking to the future, Flaherty indicated that the amendment could easily be modified if recreational marijuana passes on the November ballot, leading the state to fully legalize the use of marijuana. He said, in that case also, he wanted to make sure that pot cafes didn’t begin to dominate the landscape.
“Right now, this buffer zone is what we’re doing with clinics and dispensaries, but we want to be pro-active on the recreational if it passes in November,” he said. “I would move to amend the text amendment to include recreational as well.”
That would mean no recreational or medical dispensaries could open within a half-mile of one another. Additionally, there are limits to the numbers of licenses that can be given out by the state within the county. Suffolk County has a limit of six medical marijuana dispensary licenses at this point.