Sky Has Not Fallen in Medicinal Pot Shop's First Month in Downtown Boston

Friday, September 2, 2016

I’m wondering how the persons and organizations who tried to block the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Boston are feeling now, one month after the dispensary opened.  Are they relieved that it has caused not a single problem in the neighborhood. Are they disappointed that their strongly expressed concerns have proved to be unfounded and that their credibility may have suffered as a result. Or have they moved so far past the issue they don’t give a thought to their old dispensary antagonism, and figure the rest of us don’t either.

A company known as Patriot Care opened the dispensary at 21 Milk St. on the morning Wednesday, Aug. 3, with a lack of fanfare thoroughly intentional.  There’s no sign on the outside of the building that even says Patriot Care, never mind anything about the products sold there.
Last August, the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to grant Patriot Care the conditional use permit needed to operate a dispensary at that location, which, interestingly, is right next to the spot where Benjamin Franklin was born.  (A broad-minded rebel genius, Mr. Franklin would have approved of this enterprise, and not just because of its name.) 

At that time, Robert Mayerson, president of Patriot Care, predicted, “What people will find is that, over time, no one will know that the dispensary was even there.” 
It looks to me like “over time,” in that instance, meant 30 days.

My office isn’t far from 21 Milk and I frequently pass by it on foot.  Up to yesterday, I’d never observed anyone going into or out of the building.  So, today, I decided to go by 21 Milk at three different times between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., hoping to catch sight of someone entering the building to fill his pot prescription or exiting it with a small bag containing his, er, medicine.  (Intensive fieldwork has always been a hallmark of the Massachusetts Politics Blog.) 
On all three passes I came up empty. 

Twenty-One Milk has to be one of the sleepiest retail venues in all of Boston; it looks nothing like what its opponents feared.   
In the spring of 2015, the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID) said, “The proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 21 Milk Street is broadly viewed as a business activity that will not advance the neighborhood’s positive momentum.”  The BID is headed by former Boston City Councilor Rosemarie Sansone.  Its 37-member board of directors reads like a Who’s Who in the power structure of Boston.

At one of the 2015 zoning board hearings on the Patriot Care proposal, then Boston City Council President Bill Linehan, in whose district the dispensary sits, “voiced strong opposition to the proposed location and his continued desire to work with Patriot Care to find a more suitable location,” according to a Boston Globe account.  Downtown Crossing is “finally starting to take off” and the dispensary “doesn’t send the right message,” Linehan was quoted as saying.
Others who spoke publicly in opposition to the permit included Bernard O’Rourke, a deputy superintendent of the Boston Police Department; Marc Epstein, owner of the popular Milk Street Café; Kristen Mansharamani, founder and executive director of the Torit Montessori School, 41 Bromfield Street; and Karen LaFrazia, executive director of St. Francis House, a large shelter for the poor and homeless at 39 Boylston St.

Also registering opposition was the Midtown Cultural District Residents’ Association, which reported that, of 86 association members responding to a survey on the dispensary, 59% were against it.  One association leader explained that the group was concerned that the dispensary “would exacerbate parking woes in the neighborhood.” 
(Parking is not allowed on that part of Milk Street. I’ve never seen a vehicle parked there when Patriot Care is open, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.)

The long-established zoning process for granting conditional use permits in Boston worked well in the Patriot Care case.  The Appeals Board members were able to see beyond the heightened fears and anxieties of those who were sincerely concerned about keeping the downtown on its remarkable upward trajectory.
I understand where the opponents were coming from.  I respect their opinions and their right to express themselves fully, in whatever manner they chose, throughput the process, even though I could never understand how persons filling prescriptions at a marijuana dispensary could possibly be more adverse to a neighborhood than the persons already in the neighborhood every day filling prescriptions at CVS and Walgreens or going to appointments with physicians, dentists and physical therapists. Downtown Crossing and the adjoining Financial District have scores of such doctors and therapists.

When Patriot Care is celebrating its first anniversary next August, perhaps the Business Improvement District or the Midtown Cultural District Residents’ Association, or someone else in the opposing camp, circa 2015, will issue a statement congratulating the company on a trouble-free first year and acknowledging they were wrong to try to block the dispensary. 
That would represent a refreshing exception to normal human behavior.  Organizations are like persons, me prominently included: we never want to revisit those times when we were dead damn wrong.   

AN ADDENDUM OF PERFECT EXPRESSION: I couldn't fit this into the text above but it's too good to leave out: a statement by Scott Matalon, a member of the Allston Board of Trade and owner of Stingray Body Art, 384 Cambridge St., Allston.  As reported in on June 17 of last year, Matalon described 21 Milk St. as the "ideal location" for a medical marijuana dispensary.  "Downtown Crossing is a commercial zone," said Matalon. "I can't think of a zone that is more commercial in our city; it's an ideal location.  If not there, then where?  If it's not allowed in a major commercial zone like Downtown Crossing, then where in the City of Boston?"

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