Following the successful 2016 referendum legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, marijuana stores came closer to becoming a reality in Cambridge. Yet prospective vendors may get lost in the weeds of complex new zoning restrictions.
In late August, the Cambridge Planning Board heard a petition that would institute zoning petitions on stores that sell marijuana recreationally. This petition institutes a “buffer” of 500 feet between any recreational marijuana store and K-12 school or public youth recreation areas. It would also require that there be 1,800 feet of separation between each store that sells marijuana recreationally. In Kendall, Harvard, or Central Squares, two shops may be located within 1,800 feet of each other. According to the planning board, these regulations are meant to “avoid policies that exclude disadvantaged populations,” prevent “clustering” of recreational marijuana stores, and “promote distribution throughout the city.”
Barring the part of the petition seeking to keep recreational marijuana shops away from Cantabrigian youth, these regulations are unnecessary, overburdensome, and misguided. At best, they will have little impact given the economic disincentive for competitors to set up shop so close together. At worst, they will hamper local economic growth. These restrictions should be discarded as soon as possible.
According to the Cambridge Planning Board, one of the main purposes of the petition is to “avoid policies that exclude disadvantaged populations”. While this part of the planning board’s reasoning is almost unintelligible, we take it to be a concern that legal recreational marijuana shops will lead to gentrification if not regulated properly, given the large amount of public discourse on the issue.
This should be a large concern, especially when it comes to Cambridge, which is gentrifying at an alarming rate. Nevertheless, we are not confident that pot shops will have a substantial effect on Cantabrigian gentrification. There is not enough long-term evidence on how recreational marijuana affects property values to come to a definitive conclusion on the matter.
Zoning regulations, on the other hand, have existed for far longer than legalized recreational marijuana, and the evidence concerning their effect on gentrification is clear. Aggressive zoning may raise property prices for everyone and thus exacerbate gentrification. As a result, not only are these particular regulations unnecessary, but they may worsen one of the problems they purport to solve.
According to the Cambridge Planning Board, the other purposes of the petition are to prevent “clustering” of recreational marijuana stores, and “promote distribution throughout the city.” While it is true that the same type of business will often form clusters of shops, a large district of solely recreational marijuana shops is unlikely to form in Cambridge, which has a population of approximately 110,000. We suspect that a city of this size would not be able to sustain such a district.
Still, the most damaging part of these regulations is their negative effect on Cantabrigian economic growth. Michael Dundas, president and CEO of Sira Naturals, told The Crimson that the biggest obstacle to opening recreational marijuana stores is approval by both the city and state. The oftentimes burdensome regulations faced by aspiring business owners are not inherently bad, but unnecessarily adding to them certainly is. These regulations threaten to restrict Cambridge’s economic growth and worsen the problems that the city is trying to solve. While we support the obvious necessity of keeping stores away from schools, other restrictions serve no functional purpose. The city should scrap them.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.