The Pot Shop Campaign:Two Suitors Vying for South End Support

Just when everyone thought the campaign season had ended last Tuesday, then came marijuana.

For the past six months or more, several medical and recreational (known as adult use) companies have bombarded the South End with potential proposals for dispensaries in the neighborhood. Since that time, only two are now left standing, Compassionate Organics and Liberty Compassionates, and both are within the half-mile buffer zone and now competing with one another.

It’s the first time in Boston during the rollout of the new marijuana industry that two companies have butted up against one another for one license, and it’s begun to start playing out like a political campaign.

On Tuesday, Compassionate appeared in a last minute request at the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association to make their presentation to the group for the dispensary they hope to put at 633 Tremont St., in the old Coldwell Banker store.

Attorney Mike Ross and Founder Geoffrey Reillinger appeared at the meeting, as they have at several others, to cast themselves as the neighborhood-based boutique shop.

“We are both just barely within a half-mile of one another,” said Ross. “At some point, the City will have to make determinations as to which is the better location. It hasn’t happened yet, but at some point there will have to be a decision…With all due respect to the other group, they are putting it right by an off and on-ramp to 93. We’re a boutique; a small store. We want to be a community resource…It’s like a CVS next to a highway; they tend to attract people that are passing through and stop there.”

Said Reillinger, “I grew up in the Back Bay and I know Boston. They want you to prove yourself here and that’s what we’ve been doing for three years. We’ve been doing the hard work for a long time. This other group just showed up three months ago. We’re your neighborhood boutique shop like other places in the South End. We don’t expect people to be driving there. We expect people will walk.”

And like any good campaign, they’ve made campaign promises.

Reillinger said they have also been working to help the community beyond their required host community agreement. He said they have met with Washington Gateway Main Street and agreed to fund their Clean Streets program for five years if their license is approved. Indeed, he also said they have agreed to help pay for pedestrian beacons on Tremont Street to help with safety.

On the other hand, Liberty has been visiting the exact same groups and touting their experience in having worked in the marijuana industry in Rhode Island.

A key piece they have touted is that they are not in a business district and are also fairly removed from residential areas – at least right now – with their Albany Street location. As part of that, the zoning uses in their district say they are a ‘conditional use,’ while Compassionate is in a zone where they are a ‘forbidden use.’

Liberty, and some neighbors, have also hung their hat on the fact that the host neighborhood association, Pilot Block, has voted to oppose Compassionate.

Ross and Reillinger said it was a loaded vote, and they don’t believe it was legitimate.

“It was regrettable,” said Ross. “We never felt like we even got a chance to present. We kind of showed up to an execution.”

However, on principle, many neighbors have been enjoying the competition, and have routinely said they are glad to see the half-mile radius rule – one that was fought-for and championed by Councilor Michael Flaherty. That rule has helped neighbors to decide what proposal is best for a small area.

Matt Mues of Blackstone said as much on Tuesday.

“I really appreciate we have this buffer zone and I hope they keep it,” he said. “It’s very interesting to me and a way to stop the influx at the beginning – stopping the rows of dispensaries from coming to our business districts.”

But in the end, Ross said it will be up to the community and the City to make a choice – which will be another new decision in an industry full of new choices.

“The question is where is the best place for it,” he said. “In a neighborhood that changed a lot in the last 50 years and the zoning hasn’t, you have to be the judge.”

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