Pot shop restriction a nonstarter

Proposal would bar stores near addiction treatment centers

ON TUESDAY, the Boston City Council will hold a hearing on a proposal by District 1 Councilor Lydia Edwards to prohibit cannabis facilities from operating within a half-mile of addiction treatment centers.  Edwards introduced the measure after a cannabis company, OmniCann, announced its intent to open a retail shop on Porter Street in East Boston, close to the North Suffolk Mental Health Association (disclosure: I am a consultant for OmniCann).

The council should cast a wary eye on Edwards’ proposal, for several reasons.

First, Edwards’ buffer zone would increase the difficulty of siting and opening cannabis stores in Boston.  The city already prohibits cannabis stores from operating within a half-mile of each other.  That restriction, combined with the mandated 500-foot setback from schools and the reluctance of many property owners to lease or sell to cannabis businesses, has made siting in Boston a challenging endeavor.  Edwards’ proposal would tighten the market for all operators, including minority and equity applicants—a group city councilors recently bemoaned as too few and too slowly approved.

Second, the proposal would prove a nightmare to administer.  In an apparent attempt to blunt claims of bias against cannabis stores, Edwards quickly added alcohol sellers to her buffer zone proposal.  While some cannabis operators have already purchased or leased property, hundreds of liquor stores and restaurants are operating throughout the city.  Who gets exempted from the proposed buffer? Who gets grandfathered in, and when? It seems likely that, with alcohol sellers so firmly established, the ban would disproportionately hurt cannabis businesses.

Third, what exactly constitutes a treatment facility?  Would churches or halls that host 12-step programs qualify?  Neighborhood health centers and hospitals? Private providers like physicians and mental health counselors?  Halfway or sober homes?

And fourth, Edwards’ measure smacks of a double standard.  Prior to legal cannabis neither she nor any other councilor ever proposed a ban on liquor sellers near treatment centers.  Indeed, a package store has operated next to North Suffolk Mental Health in East Boston for decades.

Meet the Author
Cannabis stores are allowed no window displays, no exterior product depictions, and no colloquial references such as “pot” or “weed” in names or signage.  Along with being more visually discreet, their security systems far exceed those of any liquor store.  What threat do they pose that justifies a measure never contemplated for liquor sellers?

James Borghesani is president of Primepoint Media, a firm representing cannabis and non-cannabis clients. He served as communications director for the 2016 cannabis legalization campaign.