Despite 71% in Favor of Legalization, Cambridge Residents Divided on Pot Shops

Marc McGovern, Mayor of Cambridge. Photo by Yaochi Fu/BU News Service.

By Jahnavi Bhatia and Yaochi Fu
BU News Service

This article was originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle

Even as the city is drafting zoning regulations for the licensing of recreational marijuana outlets, there is lack of public consensus on where outlets should be and what they should look like.

About 71 percent of Cambridge residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in the November 2016 election. Since then, the state has set up the Cannabis Control Commission to draft regulation setting details about the laws surrounding recreational use of marijuana. The Cannabis Control Commission is required to have the regulations finalized by March 15.

But Mayor Marc McGovern said the 71 percent vote doesn’t necessarily translate to consensus on implementation.

“The trick is that people often vote in favor of something in theory,” McGovern said in an interview on Feb. 20.

He added that when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of where the retail locations are going to be, people have a lot of reservations.

Dr. Richard Saitz, a public health professor at Boston University, was part of a group of public health professionals who made recommendations to the state about the regulations. One of themain recommendations was social consumption, or consumption on premise, should not be allowed.

Saitz is specifically concerned about youth exposure to marijuana, which he thinks will increase and worsen if adult-use marijuana is allowed in social spaces.

“Kids will begin to think that marijuana is normal, glamorous, or the adult thing to do,” Saitz said. “This is bad because most people who get addicted to marijuana are those who started using it before they turned 18.”

He thinks this is particularly concerning given the huge student population in Cambridge.

What do Cambridge residents think?

Herman Autner, 83, a resident of Central Square, said he would not be opposed to having marijuana sold in social spaces. A retired chemist, he thinks of marijuana as a “harmful vice” but believes “if people have the money, they will find a way to smoke it anyway.”

Told about this kind of argument, Saitz disagreed and said if access was limited, “yes, people will get it anyway, but fewer people will get it anyway, especially the younger crowd.”

Silvia Carlisle, 43, a resident of Central Square and a mother of two children ages 12 and 19, said it is partially because of her children she is strictly opposed to the idea of social marijuana outlets such as a cannabis café, where people can buy and consume marijuana on site.

“Our city already has enough problems without people buying marijuana like candy,” she said. “It’s only going to lead to more violence and increase the access that young children already have.”

However, MIT students Adrian Garcia, 23, and Alia Hidayat, 19, are not opposed to the social retail of marijuana.

“A cannabis café would be just like a hookah bar or a normal bar,” said Garcia.

Hidayat advocated for “safe spaces for the consumption of marijuana” as a way to reduce stigmatization and in turn, addiction. Both of them, however, agreed strict regulations need to be in place to prevent children from accessing marijuana.

McGovern said he does not see cannabis cafés starting in Cambridge anytime soon.

“Cambridge has very strict laws about smoking, more so than other cities, and I don’t see us back-tracking on that,” he said.

In order to allow marijuana to be smoked in cannabis cafés, the state as well as the city would have to add them as exceptions to the smoking ban in public spaces and restaurants, which McGovern thinks is unlikely.

Social consumption of other forms of marijuana like edibles, which do not need to be smoked, is still up for debate.

McGovern also said he is hoping to get draft zoning in front of the ordinance committee by the end of March. The city needs to have open marijuana outlets by July 1 as per the deadline set by the state.

“We’re hoping to use zoning to place restrictions on the locations, signage, and number of marijuana shops,” he said. “Nobody wants 30 pot shops in Cambridge, and we can use zoning to prevent that.”

Another thing the city is looking to do is implement educational components in the zoning laws.

“Maybe they can hand out educational pamphlets with each sale,” he added.

With so many things to consider, McGovern said he is worried about meeting the July deadline. And while the City Council is working to make sure that the regulations foster safe use of marijuana, he noted that he also thinks that some social impact is unavoidable.

“Society is definitely moving in a direction where you are going to have a lot more exposure to the smell of marijuana when you are walking down the street,” McGovern said. “And that is something we have to accept.

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