As city councillors take a hard look at the equity issues in the cannabis business, would-be marijuana merchants in and out of Boston are already jumping into the lucrative new market.
Limited to doing business only by proximity to schools and each other – and available properties in land-crunched neighborhoods – proponents have popped up across Dorchester and Mattapan in the past year, with seven currently pursuing licenses.
Generally speaking, feedback has followed familiar lines at public meetings: worries about vehicular and pedestrian traffic; exposure to children or to those already struggling with drugs; the likelihood of crime associated with the business; and a desire to see them located elsewhere. At the same time, proponents keep pointing out that the selling of marijuana is a legal business that was voted in by a strong majority of the city and the precincts in question to offer a regulated, lawful, and taxable alternative to the product available on the street. Strict security protocols have been proposed for all of the sites.
The first cannabis outfit to work its way through the local process, Natural Selections at 50 Clapp St., plans to open a medical marijuana shop on a side street near Massachusetts Avenue. Aidan O’Donovan and his team won their required approvals on the marijuana side months ago, but now find themselves in a sort of city purgatory waiting on the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to approve exterior designs before they can go to Inspectional Services for building permits.
“We’re eager to get started,” O’Donovan told the Reporter on Monday. “We understand it’s lengthy process for building permits, but we’ve been ready to build for a while and are hoping to break ground in the few weeks.”
As part of its discussions with the local civic group and the city council after getting approval in early 2018, the Natural Selection group agreed to limit the business to medical marijuana until they have been open for one year.
In Uphams Corner, there has been no change to plans for a recreational cannabis dispensary replacing the vacant former Cataloni’s building at 8-10 Hancock St. Ben Virga and his business partner, Luke Marut, hope to open a shop in the roughly 2,200-square-foot building, where they have a purchase-and-sale agreement.
The site sits on a busy Columbia Road corner almost astride the Strand Theatre. The building has been vacant for years since a troubled former bar closed there. Virga’s team wants to refurbish the building, put in and maintain planters, and boost security on the parcel. Reception during public meetings has so far been chilly on the Hancock Street side, with the civic group voting against it this fall, although neighboring Jones Hill has delayed their vote.
A recreational shop proposed by Holistic Health Group for Fields Corner met early objection over its location – 1548 Dorchester Ave. – up Gibson Street from the C-11 police station and across the street from the All Dorchester Sports & Leadership building next to Town Field. But the 500-foot distance from gathering places for children was clarified recently as applying only to brick-and-mortar school buildings serving children between kindergarten and 12th grade.
The Fields Corner Civic Association voted to oppose the project.
The site, about 1,000 feet of ground floor space, used to be a tattoo parlor and is next door to a physical therapy office. One of the owners, Colonel Boothe, told the Reporter, “We completed our community outreach requirement,” noting that they are “essentially waiting for next steps from the mayor’s office,” which has recommended that they reach out to local city councilors. Boothe added Monday that they are waiting on further direction first.
Suns Mass Inc. is hoping to build a manufacturing facility at 43 Freeport St. in Clam Point. At a presentation in September, the company said it wants to bring in plants from its grower outside of Worcester, then process and manufacture the product and distribute it to shops from Freeport Street. No retail space would be included in the plan, lawyer Valerio Romano told the local civic members. Clam Point Civic Association head Margaret LeBlanc told the Reporter that the presentation was given a positive reception.
One of two Mattapan bidders located within a stone’s throw of each other, a recreational dispensary to be named “Mojos” that was pitched by Jody Mendoza, Richy Peña, and Carlos Castillo at a city-run meeting Mattapan early this month, would occupy roughly 1,000 square feet inside an existing building. The 1292 Blue Hill Ave. site would essentially be a “mom and pop” shop, Mendoza said. The team qualified as economic empowerment applicants in one of the earliest rounds of state approvals. Boston natives Mendoza and Peña currently own Mojitos country Club in Randolph.
Former city councillor Tito Jackson is pitching a medical and recreational dispensary about 0.7 miles down Blue Hill Avenue from the proposed “Mojos” spot. Jackson is CEO of the Florida-based, investor-backed marijuana company Verdant Medical Inc. As of Dec. 5, the company had just received their automatic refusal from the Zoning Board of Appeals and hoped to begin the city meeting process soon.
The company’s growing facility and a co-located store will be in Rowley, Mass, Jackson said, and they are “very close” to signing a host community agreement for a site in Provincetown. In Mattapan, the site in question is currently a check cashing location and laundromat at 1589 Blue Hill Ave., Jackson said.
The team behind a prospective recreational shop at a long-disused commercial lot in Grove Hall came before the community in late November. Kobie Evans and Kevin Hart, both men of color, are economic empowerment priority applicants approved by the state in April along with their company, Pure Oasis, LLC. Evans is a Grove Hall native and Hart works in hospital compliance. They are pitching a shop at 430 Blue Hill Ave.
According to a city employee who attended the meeting at the Grove Hall Community Center on Nov. 27, at least 50 residents showed up. To address traffic concerns, the official said, Hart and Evans proposed incentives like discounts for those who use non-car modes of transportation and offered a ‘happy hour’ of sorts during non-peak traffic hours.
The proposal is outside the required 500 feet of buffer from the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, but meeting attendees still worried about the proximity to young people who may already be struggling with drug use. This was an initial community feedback forum, before the proponents start a city process.