In September, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller granted the two retailers provisional host community agreements needed to open a marijuana business in the city, allowing both Union Twist and Ascend to file a special application to open recreational marijuana shops.
Due to Tuesday’s vote postponement, the proposed locations for Ascend and Union Twist have yet to receive approval from the City Council or a state license from the Cannabis Control Commission. Both Ascend and Union Twist plan to make their properties appointment-only dispensaries in accordance with city law. Another retailer, Cypress Tree Management, has mayoral and city approval for a dispensary on Elliot Street, but not the state’s.
Newton’s first and only marijuana store, Garden Remedies on Washington Street, opened as a medical marijuana dispensary in 2016 and began recreational sales last spring.
In an interview, Land Use Committee Chair Richard Lipof said that since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016, many residents have raised concerns about cannabis retail in Newton.
“These are fears that maybe were justified in the beginning, but now we have dispensaries open and we know that marijuana is acting much like liquor stores,” he said.
As the Chair of the Land Use Committee, Lipof said his primary concern was acting in accordance with the law.
“As somebody involved in approving these, I follow the law,” said Lipof. “It is my committee’s responsibility to decide whether — based on traffic, parking and other neighborhood concerns — the petition is worthy of approval.”
Some residents said they were concerned about either their residential or workplace proximity to Ascend’s proposed location at Washington and Cross streets.
Newton resident and software engineer Joe Lee, 62, who lives within a block of the location, said he hasn’t felt heard throughout the planning process.
“As an across-street neighbor from the site, I want to get along with the Ascend store. However, our safety and security issues must be addressed and my concerns should not be ignored or cut short,” Lee said. “How can I get along with a new neighbor if I’m being ignored?”
Union Twist chief executive Marie St. Fleur said she saw the hearing as an “opportunity” to address the public’s concerns.
“We intend to be good corporate neighbors. We will incorporate their suggestions to the extent we can, especially with the traffic issues,” St. Fleur said.
Despite many attendees citing parking and traffic concerns, Lipof said vehicular congestion has not been an issue at Garden Remedies.
“Traffic and parking at Ascend and Union Twist are major issues that we’re working on, and that is why these petitions are taking as long as they have,” Lipof said.
Some constituents voiced concerns about cannabis retailers potentially doing more harm than good for the community, especially when it comes to traffic and potential impact on youth.
“We don’t want to put anything in this community to hurt it,” Newton native and Ascend attorney Mike Ross said after the meeting.