Brookline Town Meeting members voted on Thursday against a proposal that would have constrained business for marijuana retailers, including a proposal that would have required the shops to be appointment-only until 2022.
The 161-64 vote means walk-up models like New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Brookline Village can continue operating in their current model.
“The most important thing that we were able to do tonight is preserve privacy and preserve access for our customers,” NETA President Amanda Rositano said after the vote. “We’re very pleased at how the outcome came tonight.”
An appointment-only system would require data from customers, which Rositano argued was a violation of necessary rights of privacy for NETA clients. “I think we heard loud and clear tonight that the voters here in Brookline and the Town Meeting members believe that privacy is important and believe that cannabis should be something that you can access like any other legal product,” she said.
Town Meeting members approved another proposal to shorten NETA’s hours, though it was largely considered moot after the Select Board voted last week to shorten the store’s hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Another proposal to place a moratorium on new recreational marijuana businesses was referred the licensing review committee.
Jeffrey Allen, an attorney who represents Sanctuary Medicinals, which plans to open a recreational shop in Coolidge Corner next year, applauded the vote against going appointment-only. “I think tonight’s vote is good for the industry as a whole,” he said. “An important decision was made tonight.”
The three proposals were filed after hundreds of complaints from residents, according to Paul Warren, a six-year Brookline resident who has previously fought against the presence of marijuana retailers in his neighborhood.
“We set our cannabis bylaws long before any retail cannabis shop opened in Massachusetts, [and] we now know what a retail cannabis shop in Brookline looks like,” Warren said in his remarks before the crowd of over 200 people in the Brookline High School auditorium Thursday night. “Our first retail cannabis shop is much bigger than anyone had ever expected.”
Warren played two videos with testimonies from residents and business owners who complained of overcrowding, litter, illegally parked cars, public urination, and public consumption. One resident claimed she had been groped by a NETA client and several residents claimed they had seen the reselling of pot to people they believed to be teenagers outside the facility.
NETA President Amanda Rositano responded to these claims in her remarks, some of which she dismissed as “simply not true.” When NETA first opened as a recreational facility in Brookline in March, Rositano said, the facility “got very few complaints” and cooperated with neighbors. “The most common complaints were about litter, parking and public consumption,” she said. “We took action right away.”
Several residents commended NETA for their responsive actions, including adding more parking spots, hiring more staff members to reduce line waits, and creating initiatives, including trash-cleaning teams and special trash cans, to clear up litter.
Town Meeting Member Linda Olson accused proponents of the proposals of “sowing fear” in the community, arguing that marijuana retailers are being treated with a double standard.
“Many of these folks just want the whole marijuana shop thing to go away, but I’ll remind you of that 80 percent turnout election that told us that the majority of people want this,” Olson said in her remarks. “Those of us who live near Boston University or in Fenway Park know what it’s like to live with noise, inebriation, traffic and parking woes, yet there’s no call to restrict package stores or baseball. Ask yourself why marijuana is being treated differently.”
Sam Levine has lived in the White Place district for 15 years, right next to NETA. “In my experience, the impacts of NETA on my street have been exaggerated,” Levine said. “There is no urgent crisis on White Place.”
Town Meeting Member and small business owner Faith Michaels said she polled 42 business owners near NETA, and 36 of them complained about “negative effects” since NETA opened, including loitering, parking issues, public consumption and public fights. “I heard a sense of abandonment and anger directed towards the town,” Michaels said. “Business owners I spoke with want support.”
Sean Lynn Jones, the former advisory committee chair, helped draft the bylaws to help NETA open as a medical dispensary in 2016, before it became the first Boston-area business to sell recreational cannabis recreational retail in March.
“More or less we succeeded as a town then, but since then, a lot of things have happened,” Jones said during the comment portion of the meeting. “We have learned that a large, retail, recreational marijuana store is not like a liquor store … and the kind of customers it attracts are different.”
Advisory Board Member Carol Caro voted against the proposals, which she said “don’t matter,” because “the population wanted marijuana dispensaries and we have them.”
Caro said in addition to complaints, the advisory committee has received letters and emails from residents who said the situation has not been as bad as some have described. “I’m supporting the marijuana shops in town, because I think that they’ve done everything that they needed to do,” Caro said in an interview earlier this week. “I think that a lot of the complaints have been over-exaggerated.”
In October, more than 900 Brookline residents signed a petition to bring the proposals to a vote before the town’s select board in an effort to address the “unacceptable situation” involving marijuana retail in Brookline, according to the petition. It describes issues “from a nuisance and quality of life perspective which will likely have similar effects on other neighborhoods as more retail establishments are opened.”
Select Board Chair Bernard Greene said the select board has approved the funding of a kind of cannabis ombudsman position, or “Community Impact Coordinator” who would act as a liaison between the town and concerned residents. This person will be responsible for “cannabis issues only,” according to Greene, and is expected to be hired within the next couple of weeks.
NETA officials have called on the town to spend the $1.4 million the retailer has paid to the town, funds that were intended to offset any negative impact to the community. Greene said while the money is sitting in the town’s coffers, it can’t be used by the town until a specific town commission approves the funds for a specific use.
To work around this issue, Greene said the town approved $78,000 for use by Brookline Police and the town’s Department of Public Works for additional police patrols, parking enforcement, park patrols, and litter enforcement.
“Back in early October, there was a lot of pressure on the select board to spend the money that the town had,” Greene said. On Oct. 5, the select board approved the use of the funds by the police and Public Works department to spend that money, which he said will be reimbursed, pending approval from the town.
Brookline Police Chief Chief Andrew Lipson said the funding was applied to these departments on Oct. 6 but did not provide details about the implementation, which he described as an “evolving situation.”
Speaking to reporters after the vote on Thursday, NETA President Rositano said he’s thrilled about the authorization of the community impact funds. “That is the first step in addressing impacts,” she said.
While the industry continues to develop in the community, Rositano said she hopes that residents will continue to voice their complaints. “We’ve been open to their concerns all along and we can consistently take action to make sure that we address them,” she said. “We always want to hear from our neighbors.”