The State announced last week that 20 locations would be permitted to dispense medical marijuana, and local officials were high on the fact that none of the sites were in Chelsea.
“We weren’t surprised, because there were no applications for sites in Chelsea,” said City Manager Jay Ash. “We carefully crafted a defendable legal strategy to limit where dispensaries could go with every intention of not welcoming them to Chelsea, and our strategy has worked, at least so far.”
That strategy, as explained by Ash, was to permit dispensaries in designated areas of the city. Generally, if a use is not allowed anywhere by local zoning, the courts have overruled that local decision. So, City officials last year decided to take a bold step – taking action to actually allow dispensaries in the city’s two shopping center districts as a way of keeping them out of Chelsea. The City’s feeling was that neither the Mystic Mall nor Chelsea Commons ownership would allow those uses in their centers.
“And, we’ve been correct,” said Ash, who indicated that he has never actually discussed the strategy with either ownership group, but that his in-depth knowledge of their corporate philosophies led him to believe that medical marijuana would not be a desired use in their portfolios.
Ash credited the City Council, and in particular, Councillor Leo Robinson, as well as the Planning Board, City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher and Police Chief Brian Kyes, for working with him to keep “pot shops” out of Chelsea.
“All of us are skeptical of the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and, more so, we’ve all been working to overcome the reputation Chelsea has had as a drug community in the past,” said Robinson. “It would be tough to fight that reputation while some were hanging out signs to welcome people into the store to buy pot.”
Ash concurred with Robinson’s comments, and added that the City is coordinating efforts with stakeholders to reduce the impacts of drugs on individuals, families and the community. Chief Kyes went further, saying that the decriminalization of marijuana and the permitting of dispensing facilities are sending the wrong messages out to drug users and, especially, youth.
“There’s no FDA (Food and Drug Administration) evidence to support the claim that medical marijuana has health benefits,” said Kyes, who said his colleagues in the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, of which he is vice-president, have taken a strong stance against the softening of attitudes on marijuana. “Conversely, the discussions about it not being what it actually is, a dangerous drug that can have long lasting negative impacts on users, especially our youth, are giving our youth the wrong impression.”
Two licenses have been granted in Suffolk County, those both in Boston, one in Roxbury and the other in the Back Bay. Ash said he received numerous calls about siting a dispensary in Chelsea.
“I had old friends from my days at the State House calling me to ask if it would be okay to come to Chelsea,” said Ash. “I had great conversations catching up on those old days, but in each case I ended the friendly chat there, and then talked about why it was important not to have a dispensary in Chelsea. I’m pleased they all respected what I was saying, and happy that we won’t be dealing directly with the consequences of having one in our downtown, near a school or anywhere else in the city for now.”