Politics and marijuana seem like unlikely chums, but all across the city, the licensing and siting process has become ultra-political and Councilor Michelle Wu said it could and should be fixed with better planning.
All over the city, competing proposals have been shopped around the community as played out last year in JP, and it has resulted in high drama, but that isn’t unusual. Wu said it could be avoided by treating the industry like any other zoning matter.
“We should have set up this system based on planning, where the City could have identified the spaces or locations that make sense for this type of business to exist – just like should happen through the city-wide planning process on land uses of any kind and then codify that into the zoning code and let business people make their decisions based on that,” said Wu during a neighborhood news roundtable last Friday. “Instead there is a political competition that is extremely costly where someone has to find a location that they are hoping will work, start to pay rent, then go through a community process with many, many meetings and no guarantees. Then they have to sit and wait for the black box of one office in the City to issue a Host Community Agreement.”
Wu said the system has been changing too much as well. What began as a buffer zone a half-mile around every dispensary – as well as some protections for schools and youth centers – has been subject to waiver and exception. That has brought about fighting and uncertainty among neighbors and communities.
“It has put the burden unfairly on entrepreneurs and then put neighborhoods and communities in the position once again to fight something without any mechanism to give feedback on what a better alternative would be,” she said. “We’re seeing that playing out in Charlestown, and we’ve seen that happen in East Boston and Roxbury. All across the City it’s the same dynamic.”
In the end, Councilor Wu said it’s much the same as high-stakes development meetings, and the new marijuana industry likely should not have fallen victim to the same pitfalls.
“The way that the cannabis licensing decisions have been made at the City – or lack thereof – are the perfect example of the problems with our planning and development and zoning processes,” she said. “It is opaque, it is political and it pits people against each other. It ultimately results in outcomes that aren’t in the best interest of our neighborhoods.”