Grow, Gift, Repair

How traffic is being used in Reefer madness

When one of the state’s first marijuana stores opened last month in Leicester, a tiny town in Central Massachusetts, Greg Bivona, 72, watched the news from his vacation condo in Florida. He had already planned to fly home to Brewster to vote against pot stores because he felt they would worsen traffic. Now, he had proof.

“I do truly not want to see the town that I love . . . turn into something that is not what I envisioned Brewster would be,” Bivona told about 1,200 residents at a Dec. 3 Special Town Meeting. “I don’t want to see it look like Leicester, with traffic, ridiculous traffic.”

The highly publicized transportation snarls have reverberated across the state, changing the marijuana debate in places such as Roslindale, East Boston, Lowell, and Cape Cod.
Residents, many of whom weeks ago had never heard of Leicester, now know one thing: They don’t want to become like it.

Proponents point to the no-drama opening Saturday of Alternative Therapies Group in Salem as proof that Leicester’s problems are unlikely to play out elsewhere. The cannabis store provided shuttle buses from overflow parking lots and required customers to make appointments online.

And Leicester leaders say their streets have cleared. Cultivate, the pot shop there, had a line of about 25 people waiting on foot Tuesday, said Police Chief Jim Hurley, but the need for officers to be stationed there at all times dropped off a week ago. He chalked it up to the store adding more parking and the demand dropping as other stores elsewhere received approvals to open.

“The novelty is wearing off,” Hurley said, adding that Leicester’s situation was unique because its opening marked the end of marijuana prohibition in the Eastern United States, and it was closer to the state’s more populated areas. Plus it was Thanksgiving, the busiest travel week of the year, he said, adding, “I refer to that, really, as the perfect storm.”

On the eve of a Dec. 5 community meeting in Roslindale to discuss a proposed marijuana store, someone taped a copy of a Globe article about Leicester’s woes to a street pole near the planned site. The Nov. 27 article’s headline jumped out: “Neighbors say pot shop brings misery to town.”

The meeting was dominated by concerns about Roslindale reliving Leicester’s traffic nightmare, said Mitch Rosenfield, a co-owner of the proposed store. He said he argued that customers coming to his business would have plenty of parking and public transit options, unlike in Leicester. Also, he added, his shop would not open for a year, by which time many other shops in the Boston area would be running.

“I had satellite maps set up showing people how the two locations couldn’t be more different,” Rosenfield said. “Leicester was a disaster waiting to happen.”

After seeing the gridlock in Leicester, Lowell officials e-mailed the 8 to 10 businesses seeking permission to open pot stores there and asked for their plans to reduce traffic and parking issues. The firms would have had to provide such plans at a later stage in the process anyway, but city leaders required the plans to be submitted earlier, said Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue.