OF POT SHOPS, BOOZE BOUTIQUES, AND YES MEANS YES

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Aris Halani begins his family’s pot-shop Porter Street presentation

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In 2016 Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative making “reefer” — formally known as “marijuana or “cannabis” — legal for purchase. This vote was, of course, a bit of a joke, because everybody who wanted reefer could already buy it anywhere, and they could openly buy “blunts” and wrapping paper whence to make “roaches.” #Why anyone would want to smoke a “joint” of reefer, I can’t say : myself, I find it doesn’t provide the jolt that its fans exult about,  not to mention I can’t like the smell. But smoking a smoke-able substance is up to the individual — who am i to tell someone they can’t frolic with reefer ? — and so by me it was perfectly OK that people bought “a bag” of reefer — for way too much money — and smoked it with the joy that I bring to ice cream. Thus the vote of Massachusetts people was quite all right by me. Of course I too voted “Yes,” even though I do n’t smoke anything — except barbecue on a wood fire.

So now comes 2018, and entrepreneurs are opening up “cannabis shops” here and there in our state, and other entrepreneurs are proposing to do so; and suddenly the public, which voted Yes, is all up in arms that their Yes actually does mean Yes. Oh no, they cry, no pot shops in my neighborhood !! Oh, we say, but we voted Yes, right ? Well, no, cry the “Yes doesn’t mean yes” crowd, we didn’t actually vote yes. that was just a statement of principle. In practice we mean No, No, and No.

So, what you guys are saying is that it’s all right in principle if i inhale some spliff, but not OK for me to actually DO it ? Answer : “You can smoke wherever else you like but not in my neighborhood !

Right.

Anyhoo — it came to pass this past Wednesday that a proposal for a pot shop in East Boston was accorded a community hearing. The presentation was has hosted by the East Boston Social Center and moderated by a spokesman from the City’s Planning and Development agency. The presenters, father and son Halani, have a location in mind on Porter Street (where my grandparents fist lived after arriving from overseas as dirt poor immigrants) hard by North Suffolk Mental Health’s (NSMH) East Boston facility. Many NSMH clients are addicts in recovery; thus the obvious concern about the Halani family’s proposal.

It probably does not make sense to locate a pot shop next door to an addict recovery station, if only for messaging : as two friends pointed out, addicts in recovery aren’t there because of reefer. Other friends point out that there’s plenty of booze shops right around the corner; and why is booze quite OK but reefer not OK ? In any case, most of the folks attending the hearing did not voice these sorts of quite reasonable observations pro or con. The sense of the meeting was that ( 1 ) the pot shop will bring tons of traffic into a square already trafficked to the max and ( 2 ) marijuana should never have been legalized in the first place, and no, it should not be in East Boston no matter what location. The intensity of this objection was perhaps epitomized by the comment of one man who said that “there’s a lot of minorities in the area and they’re all on booze.” (It may be unfair to call his comment epitome; he was called out by many, including by me, and was shut down by the City’s moderator.)

The traffic objection was not so easily disposed of. East Boston has all but succumbed to traffic  impact. The tunnel approach road (for which my grandparents’ house on Porter Street, along with two dozen others, was taken by eminent domain) was built to handle 1970 traffic at most. 2018’s traffic looms at least four times as busy, with no end yet in sight; and the pot shop location sits directly adjoint to the tunnel approach road where it turns, along Porter Street, onto lanes attached to London Street toward the tunnel entrance. This objection, compounded by the message sent by locating the pot shop next door to NSMH, makes the Halani family proposal quite problematic. There are many other pot shop proposals for locations elsewhere in East Boston, including one along McClellan Highway, far away from East Boston residences and neighborhood streets. I think the Halani proposal can’t compete with that one.

So let me sum up :

First : Councillor Lydia Edwards spoke at the hearing and eloquently expressed the common wisdom, that marijuana is legal, that she voted Yes to make it so,m and that it is coming to East Boston, but that the shop location must be one friendly to the neighborhood, not an irritant. (my words)

Second, opponents really have no good answer to the observation that the Porter Street location has booze shops almost next door to it, and why booze but not reefer, which is far less a health issue than booze over-use ?

Third, my own observation : how will the Halani proposal ever make money ? They are preparing all kinds of security features staffed by two ranks of security people. They will build a fortress-like interior with check points, like those you f ind in a military bunker or a prison. You’ll need a “government-issued” ID and must be 21 years old. (You’ll probably also need an FBI background check: their employees must obtain it.) Crazier still, you’ll need an appointment (!!) in order to shop there. Lastly, the cost of a joint will be about 50 percent higher than from a street dealer. This, my friends,  did not sound like a recipe for business success. It was a kind of verbal slapstick.

The Halani’s have already poured thousands of dollars into preparing the presentation. They had two security consultants and one licensing consultant — well paid I am sure.  They had a doctor in the room. I’m no expert, but I can count. Do they really think that their appointment-only marijuana fortress — their secure reefer prison — can make money ? My own reaction is, I want nothing whatsoever to do with that sort of bristling, deflective, you the customer are-a-danger-to-society place.

Maybe you see it differently. Good luck if you do.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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