Davis Square pot shop clears first hurdle

The proposed storefront of New England Select Harvest, a locally-owned recreational marijuana retailer, on Highland Ave. in Davis Square is pictured Sept. 25. Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily

Somerville may finally be getting its first recreational cannabis dispensaries three years after Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana in 2016

Somerville City Council President Katjana Ballantyne, in her capacity as acting mayor on the issue, announced that she would approve host community agreements for three dispensary proposals, including one in Davis Square, in a press release issued Sept. 19.

The three approved proposals are for New England Select Harvest (NESH) at 378–380 Highland in Davis Square, between Tenóch Mexican and Opa Greek Yeeros, Union Leaf in Union Square and East Coast Remedies on Central Street near Somerville High School.

Acquiring a host community agreement is only the first step in a long path towards open doors.

The businesses must next get a license from the Somerville Licensing Commission and then a building permit from the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals, depending on how the parcel is zoned. Licenses and permits secured, the business must then head to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to get final approval, according to documents on the City of Somerville’s website.

The three finalists have already come a long way; recreational marijuana was approved by the Commonwealth’s voters in 2016 by 54%, with 76% of Somerville voters casting a vote in favor. Then, the Massachusetts State House spent the next year legislating how the process would be carried out and then passed the baton to the cities; Somerville finished its own regulations in winter of last year with the 2018 Somerville zoning amendments.

The Acting-Mayor’s Marijuana Advisory Committee (MAC), which was set up to oversee the process, reviewed 14 proposals during the first round, with heavy emphasis placed on promoting minority-owned businesses.

Two of the businesses that received approval are owned by minority women from the area while NESH, the Davis Square proposal is from Robert Gregory, the owner of Redbones Barbecue.

Gregory told the Daily he did not want to talk about the project before going through the zoning process.

NESH received the second highest score of the 14 applicants with 12.5 out of 15 possible points. The recommendation, submitted to Ballantyne by Alex Mello, the MAC liaison, praised Gregory’s partnership with Jamie Crumb, a Maine businessman with experience in the cannabis industry as well as Maria Cacciola, who has worked as an executive in the commercial banking and lending industry.

The recommendation also cited the location’s proximity to public transit and bike lanes as positives. Gregory also outlined plans for community education and engagement in his application.

Stephen Mackey, the president and CEO of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, said that Gregory certainly fits the bill for local ownership.

Gregory’s other business, Redbones, was key to the rejuvenation of Davis Square 20 years ago, according to Mackey.

“Redbones is very highly regarded,” he said. “It was with that kernel that we worked on developing a larger dining and nightlife community.”

NESH was not the only proposal close to Tufts that was submitted. A location along the Somerville Community Path, as well as one in Teele Square, were both rejected. Sira Naturals, a medical marijuana dispensary already up and running in Davis, was also rejected. The recommendation cited changes in the company’s ownership as justification.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Mary Sullivan, a Somerville resident who lives down the street from the proposed location of NESH, said she’s wary of the extra traffic it could bring into an already-congested Davis Square.

She pointed to the recreational marijuana dispensary that opened in Brookline earlier this year which, as the Boston Globe reported, has seen lines out the door and raised the ire of some community members.

Part of the reason the Brookline store gets so much traffic is because it is the only marijuana dispensary that allows walk-ins in all of Suffolk County, according to the Globe. NESH would become the closest dispensary to Tufts if it were to open.

Sullivan cited the influx of shoppers from around the region the proposed dispensary could draw.

“I feel like my concerns are really minor, but they’re really about the congestion it would cause,” she said. “Even more Ubers pulling over or double parking, especially during rush hour. It can take me 10 minutes just to go three-quarters of a mile, it’s ridiculous.” 

Sullivan added that the city already says it is focusing on increasing traffic safety in Davis Square and that it needs to remain a priority when considering new dispensaries.

Property values are also a worry for Sullivan. While one analysis by the libertarian Cato Institute found a positive relationship between proximity to a dispensary and home values in Denver, Colo., there has been little research on the question.

Mackey said that marijuana is a new industry and it is inevitable that people would be concerned. He encouraged the community to be engaged with the zoning process, which will include public input during the licensing and permitting phase.

“The important thing is that it be an inclusive and transparent process,” he said.