MA: Fearing Marijuana Clusters, Boston Planning Officials Restrict Where Retail Pot Shops Can Go

Photo Credit: Brian Myrick

Boston planning officials are seeking changes to the city’s zoning code to block retail marijuana shops from clustering in neighborhoods.

The board of the Boston Planning and Development Agency passed a proposal creating buffer zones and limits to where in the city that retail marijuana establishments can set up shop.

“Provided that any cannabis establishment shall be sited at least one half mile or 2,640 feet from another existing cannabis establishment and at least 500 feet from a pre-existing public or private school providing education in kindergarten or any of grades 1 through 12,” the proposal says.

“Distances shall be determined from the nearest lot line of the proposed establishment to the nearest lot line of an existing establishment or school,” the proposal adds. “Use approval shall be applicable to the applicant only.”

The city’s Zoning Commission still has to approve it before the buffer zone goes into effect.

In 2016, city officials approved a buffer zone that only applied to medical marijuana shops, though there was an attempt to have a more expansive buffer zone at the time. A medical marijuana shop is currently open in Boston, run by Patriot Care Corp. and located in the Downtown Crossing area.

The proposal approved on Thursday changes the medical marijuana language to include the broader term “cannabis establishments.”

Massachusetts voters went to the polls in November 2016, approving a law broadly legalizing use of recreational marijuana for adults ages 21 and over. In Boston, the law passed with 62.6 percent of the vote, despite opposition from Mayor Marty Walsh and other high-ranking elected officials.

The new law also created the Cannabis Control Commission, which is overseeing the new industry.

As the Boston Planning and Development Agency weighed the buffer zone proposal on Thursday, the five-member Cannabis Control Commission signed off on setting up a licensing process for marijuana establishments.

Applicants who operate a licensed medical marijuana establishments can ask for “priority certification” for opening up a recreational marijuana establishment. The “priority certification” will also be available to applicants trying to set up a retail pot shop in order to promote “economic empowerment in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement.”

Others seeking a retail marijuana license will be able to apply on June 1.

“The Commission’s decision balances the significant progress we have made over six months with our responsibility to launch an efficient, orderly, and thorough application process in April,” Shawn Collins, the commission’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Our approach supports the unknown number of applicants who will be utilizing our licensing system for the first time, and staff who will be charged with certifying that establishments and agents are qualified to serve residents throughout Massachusetts,” he added. “This choice will help ensure the process moves smoothly, which is in the best interests of the industry and the Commonwealth.”

The commission is aiming for Massachusetts retail pot shops to open July 1.