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What Are The Top Concerns About Marijuana Dispensaries?

A Movement Carries Concern

As anticipated, the legalization of marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts brought a wave of interested business owners to the area. The recent legislation supporting recreational marijuana has also raised many questions from the local Boston community. Who owns the facilities? How much input does the community get to have in the operation? How will the facilities be regulated and overseen, and how close will facilities be to community centers and schools?

In Hyde Park, an area of inner-Boston, local owners competed for territory all summer with out-of-state marijuana companies, as the Boston City Council was looked to for guidance. Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, who represents areas of Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale, recently ran a survey with Involved to get feedback from the community. Her question on marijuana dispensaries was shared with her email list and social media channels, and offered four options for top concern: ownership, community involvement, regulation and oversight, and proximity to schools and community centers.

Disclaimer: These results are not statistically significant due to the selective ability to respond and share. However, the quantity of responses and comments provide insight into overall sentiment and top concerns.

Concern For Racial Equity

In a city with the majority of residents being White, 27% of Councilor Campbell’s district of Dorchester is White. 43% of residents are Black/African-American, and 19% are Hispanic/Latino, making Dorchester (and neighboring communities) an example of Boston’s most diverse. A recurring concern from respondents was racial equity. One resident wrote, “I am concerned that my neighborhood will not have a native minority from our own community owning a dispensary in it, when it should be offered to native minority applicants before being offered to non minority outsiders.” 42% of Campbell’s 268 respondents agreed. “I live in an area that is slowly becoming gentrified and would not like to see another reason to force minorities and poor families out of their communities,” wrote one resident.

Geographic results
Survey results data

The community having a “major role in the host agreement” was another top concern for 19% of respondents. Some simply didn’t want the community to be left behind: “We are so new into this process, how (it) works, and what regulations are in place.” 16% of people chose effective oversight and regulation of facilities as their top concern, and 22% were more focused on proximity of a dispensary to a school or community center.

The State Fights Racial Disparities

In 2014, the marijuana possession arrest rate was 3.3 times higher for Black people in Massachusetts than for White people. The State Cannabis Control Commission recently announced a social equity program to combat racial inequity and people disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. "The idea here is to create a form of equity where it's not about making sure that everyone is in the same exact spot, but it's about creating a level playing field where everyone has a chance," Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title said.

One respondent to Councilor Campbell’s survey wrote about the impact of the war on drugs on the community. “As a retired law enforcement officer who has never smoked anything before… I agree with medical marijuana… And many of our minority kids are being locked up for it, causing them to not get great jobs to take care of themselves and their families.” Racial equity in Boston has been a primary focus for Councilor Campbell. Her constituents’ feedback on this survey reaffirms the mission.

Caleb McDermott