Local marijuana dispensary to voluntarily reduce hours after residents complain at local meeting

Brookline police officers and NETA staff check customer identification and monitor sidewalk congestion outside of the marijuana dispensary on Nov. 13, 2019, Boston, Mass. Photo by Sabrina Schnurr/BU News Service

By Sabrina Schnurr
BU News Service

BROOKLINE — A local marijuana dispensary will voluntarily reduce business hours starting Dec. 1 after town officials listened to complaints from more than 200 residents arguing customers are blocking walkways, reselling products to minors and urinating on nearby lawns.

NETA’s Brookline location, which currently closes at 10 p.m. each night, will now close at 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 6 p.m. on Sunday, the store announced Tuesday. 

“We feel like we have been responsive to our neighbors and have addressed many of the issues brought to our attention,” NETA President Amanda Rositano said in her memorandum to Brookline Select Board members. “However, we have listened to the continuing concerns and acknowledge that there is more we can do.” 

Rositano announced the operating changes two weeks after the Planning and Regulation and Public Safety subcommittees voted unanimously on Oct. 28 to recommend Brookline Town Meeting members limit NETA’s retail hours. 

“All the statistics in the world cannot quantify what it feels like to have your neighborhood go from a sleepy hamlet to a party zone practically overnight,” Seth Barrett, 52, of Brookline said at the October meeting. “We pay exorbitant taxes for the privilege to live in such a special place, and we would like to reap that reward – especially when it’s time for our children to go to bed.”

NETA, located on Washington Street, opened for medical cannabis retail in 2016 and became the first Boston-area business to sell recreational marijuana in March. 

Six months later, over 900 residents signed a petition seeking a town meeting to curb hours and enact appointment-only sales at NETA and any future Brookline dispensaries. 

Other resident complaints included reports of sexual harassment by NETA customers, illegal public consumption and an increase in littering. 

Rositano denied residents’ claims of traffic congestion and public urination, noting that NETA has five bathrooms on site. 

“We are here, and we are committed to being a good neighbor,” Rositano said at the October meeting. “We know there is some work to do, but solutions are in play.”

NETA has issued voluntary payments to the Brookline Police Department and the Department of Public Works, which Rositano said will provide relief to neighbors’ concerns “whether they are real or perceived.” NETA has also implemented a “green team” dedicated to picking up trash in Brookline Village. 

Residents voiced fears of living in a police state in response to Rositano’s suggestion that NETA hire additional security details for the store and its surrounding area. 

Rositano insisted, contrary to petitioners’ data, that a change in business hours would diminish customer access to cannabis, harm NETA’s revenue and impact the town’s overall budget. 

NETA has contributed over $1 million in sales tax to the town and over $875,000 in voluntary payments to the nonprofit Brookline Community Foundation, according to documents presented at the local meeting. 

“It’s about the character of our town and our decision-making – I don’t care if NETA’s revenue goes down,” said 77-year-old Brookline resident Jane Gilman. “What’s really going on here is greed … Brookline needs revenue – but at what cost?” 

The subcommittees also voted to suggest that NETA operate on an appointment-only basis to improve queue management and that the town pause licensing for additional dispensaries until further study is done. 

“We clearly had a failure in leadership and a failure in process,” said Public Safety Subcommittee Chair Janice Kahn in her comparison of Brookline’s retail cannabis plans to those of neighboring Newton. “They took a much more conservative approach that puts community first.”

Appointment-only operations would reduce efficiency, limit time available to satisfy individual customer needs and turn consumers to the illicit and unregulated market, Rositano argued in both the local meeting and her memorandum to Brookline Select Board members. 

“If you want to get your iPhone fixed, you go on the Apple website and make an appointment,” said Lee Selwyn of the Planning and Regulation Subcommittee. “This is not rocket science.”

The proposed by-law amendments, which would not affect medical marijuana centers or delivery-only cannabis retailers, will be voted on by elected Brookline residents and members of the Brookline Select Board at a town meeting scheduled for Nov. 19.

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