Should Liquor Stores & Pot Dispensaries Be Allowed Near Rehabs?

By Maggie Ethridge 10/26/18

A Boston city council member is proposing that pot dispensaries and liquor stores shouldn't be allowed to open near addiction treatment centers.

Image: 
man examining bottle of alcohol in store

In East Boston, city officials are considering a proposal to open a pot dispensary on the same block as a healthcare facility where patients are treated for drug and alcohol addiction.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards is proposing that state law should not allow such close proximity of the two diametrically opposed businesses.

As the crisis of addiction in the United States continues to escalate with overdose deaths increasing yearly, some believe the U.S. needs laws setting boundaries between pot and alcohol stores and recovery centers.

In Boston, a half-mile buffer is required between marijuana facilities—meant to protect the city from having entire blocks focused on pot sales—and state law allows municipalities to impose 500-foot buffers on marijuana facilities around K-12 schools.

However, it’s unclear if this would extend to allowing cities and towns to legally increase the size of such buffers or to include other facilities—such as addiction treatment centers—in the law.

Edwards said that Boston should consider banning marijuana and liquor stores from opening near addiction treatment centers. She has requested a hearing on the possibility of these zones. Other industry groups responded quickly that “buffer zones” could be illegal.

According to The Boston Globe, Edwards argues that people trying to recover from addiction require protection from the presence of marijuana and alcohol. Edwards added that she supported the legalization of marijuana—Boston residents voted largely in favor of a 2016 ballot initiative that created a commercial cannabis market.

“I would equally be concerned if a bar was opening up next to a substance abuse treatment [center], or if a liquor store was,” Edwards told The Globe. “I’m not trying to put in red tape or further convolute the access to this burgeoning industry, but the fights are happening, the tears are flowing, and people are tense about this. I think it’s a citywide conversation we need to have.”

The marijuana company Omnicann is attempting to open a retail pot shop in a two-story space in East Boston. The North Suffolk Mental Health Association is two doors down and operates an addiction treatment center.

Omnicann, led by Arish Halani, is offering to meet with North Suffolk leaders and to promise that the marijuana shop will not have its product in window displays.

“We’d like to be a model for how a cannabis retail facility and an abuse treatment facility can co-exist and maybe even help each other,” said Jim Borghesani, an Omnicann spokesman. 

The direct impact on those seeking addiction treatment who find their treatment center a few doors down from a store that dispenses drugs or alcohol is not proven.

“As always, there isn’t as much data as we’d like to inform policy,” said. Dr. Eden Evins, the founding director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Addiction Medicine.

Edwards said Boston should create a registry of potential marijuana facilities to alert prospective operators that their desired locations are close to another facility.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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