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Boston approves new marijuana stores near Boston College and Berklee, overriding objections from schools

Boston officials have awarded preliminary licenses to six new marijuana stores proposed in the city, including two near college campuses that drew strenuous objections from school officials.

The five-member Boston Cannabis Board, convened earlier this year after a shakeup of the local approval process for pot operators, approved the licenses on unanimous votes at a virtual meeting Wednesday afternoon, while rejecting two others.

Among those given the OK: A marijuana store planned for the space once occupied by infamous Cleveland Circle dive bar Mary Ann’s, which has since closed.

Proposed in 2018, the Happy Valley project had drawn support from local elected officials and the area neighborhood association — but fierce criticism from nearby Boston College.

Former Boston police commissioner Bill Evans, now head of the school’s security and police operations, railed against the store at a public hearing last week. He said the business was undoubtedly targeting BC students and would “open the door to another drug that will impact these kids.” He argued that it was “crazy” to think scanning technology would catch the sophisticated fake IDs used by undergrads.

The city’s onetime top cop then raised eyebrows by saying, “I’d take Mary Ann’s over [the marijuana store] any day.” The bar was frequently the scene of fights and other alcohol-fueled disruptions; in 2012, a student drowned in a nearby reservoir after drinking there.

When a pro-store resident followed Evans’ testimony by noting Mary Ann’s history, Evans apparently unmuted his microphone out of turn and angrily snapped, “How long have you lived here?”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board’s five commissioners acknowledged the college’s concerns. But they noted it would be impossible to entirely avoid Boston’s many colleges and universities while approving the 56 or so recreational retailers the city must eventually license under state law.

“That’s going to be something we really can’t do too much about,” Cannabis Board commissioner Lisa Holmes said. “If [BC students] don’t go here … they’ll just go up the street.”

The board voted unanimously to license Happy Valley, which has also signed a host community agreement with the city for a store in East Boston, but made the permit conditional on the company holding additional meetings with BC and other community members.

In a brief statement, BC spokesman Jack Dunn said the college “joins Cleveland Circle business owners and local residents in expressing our disappointment over the Board’s decision, which we believe is not in the best interest of the community.”

Michael Reardon, the company’s founder, said Happy Valley was grateful for the vote’s outcome and would work to build long-term relationships in the area.

“Happy Valley is deeply committed to our communities and to our neighbors,” he said in a statement.

Board commissioners also gave the green light to Redi, a marijuana store proposed by Cypress Tree Management, Inc. for the Boylston Street storefront currently occupied by Little Steve’s pizzeria.

The Berklee College of Music, whose main campus is concentrated around the same area, opposed the proposal, as did the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Regulators shared some concerns about the location, in a dense neighborhood that can draw thousands of fans on their way to Fenway Park. But they said the company had a strong application, including plans for security and line management, and praised its promises to meet routinely with neighbors, hire formerly incarcerated people, and offer employees a benefit promoting home ownership.

The firm also has pledged it will not offer single pre-rolled joints, in an effort to placate neighbors worried about public toking in the neighborhood.

“As a local, majority-minority owned cannabis business, we are grateful to the Boston Cannabis Board,” Cypress Tree chief executive Victor Chiang said in a statement. “We are also grateful for the board’s recognition of our deep commitment to diversity and inclusion in supporting a more equitable and just cannabis industry.”

In addition to the city license, Redi also will need a Zoning Board of Appeal waiver from a city rule mandating a half-mile buffer between every marijuana establishment, since another shop (owned by Sira Naturals parent Ayr Strategies) has been approved a few blocks away. And like all the companies licensed Wednesday, Redi must pass the rigorous state licensing process overseen by the Cannabis Control Commission before it can open, a process that can take months.

Meanwhile, the Cannabis Board rejected an application from The Heritage Club for a retail marijuana store in Charlestown. The move followed concerns from neighbors about traffic — and an unusual public upbraiding of the firm at last week’s public hearing by City Councilor Lydia Edwards. She accused its owners of misleading neighborhood residents about New England Development’s involvement in their venture and submitting “fake” letters of support written by people outside Boston.

“This applicant is not qualified,” a visibly upset Edwards said last week, calling the Heritage Club’s application “half-baked” and “the worst” she has ever reviewed. “There’s no actual person in Charlestown writing to me in support of this.”

Officials said the Heritage Club could re-apply at anytime, but urged the firm to conduct a traffic study and improve its relations with the community before doing so. The company’s owners have contested Edwards’ characterizations and said they tried repeatedly to meet with her.

The Cannabis Board also approved local licenses for stores owned by Evoke Inc. on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester; Rooted In LLC on Washington Street in Roxbury; 617 Therapeutic Health Care Inc. on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester; and Suns Mass, a subsidiary of national cannabis operator Harvest Health & Recreation, whose application for a marijuana growing, processing, and retailing center on Hyde Park Avenue was initially rejected over a lackluster diversity plan and the company’s extensive regulatory issues in other states.

Regulators concluded the meeting by shooting down a second attempt from Dragon Vapors, LLC to win a license for a marijuana store on Chestnut Hill Avenue, saying the location was “questionable” and that the application (from Jonathan Lau, owner of the regional Vape Store chain) was sloppy.