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New cannabis store smokes up school

Patients walk out of the NETA dispensary. The NETA dispensary used to only sell medical marijuana, but will now also sell recreationally.

Patients walk out of the NETA dispensary. The NETA dispensary used to only sell medical marijuana, but will now also sell recreationally.

NICK EDDINGER

Patients walk out of the NETA dispensary. The NETA dispensary used to only sell medical marijuana, but will now also sell recreationally.

NICK EDDINGER

NICK EDDINGER

Patients walk out of the NETA dispensary. The NETA dispensary used to only sell medical marijuana, but will now also sell recreationally.

New cannabis store smokes up school

March 25, 2019

The first recreational marijuana store in Greater Boston is not expected to open for a week. But, given that it is going to be in Brookline—on the corner of Washington Street and Route 9, less than a mile away from the high school—there has already been a lot of talk about it.

It is safe to say that the topic is one, for the most part, that divides adults and students.

On Mar. 7, the Cannabis Control Commission gave the 160 Washington Street medical marijuana dispensary, owned by the group New England Treatment Access (NETA), a final license to the first recreational cannabis store in Brookline.

“The voters are the ones who decided. Our priority from the very start has been to provide safe access and education to patients in Massachusetts to support their health and wellbeing,” NETA spokesman Peter Brown said. “We have worked closely with the town and our neighbors to educate about our operation and be responsive to any concerns we receive.”

The effects of a cannabis store

Next year, students could be walking by a cannabis store every day to school.

Senior and peer leader Gigi Solomon does not believe the store will affect the students passing by, but could influence their view of cannabis.

“There won’t be people smoking there because that’s illegal; there are always police officers next to the dispensary and the {freshman} are not going in and buying weed—they’re fourteen years old. They don’t have the means to do that,” Solomon said. “But I think that having it right there and seeing it out in the open makes it feel more acceptable to them.”

An alumni ‘18, who wished to be identified by his initials, D.S., goes to the 160 Washington Street dispensary. He has a medical marijuana card for fatigue and anxiety.

“It’s not a huge deal to get in, {but} it’s definitely well-regulated,” D.S. said. “I had to show my card and my ID a few times while I was in there. Otherwise, it’s similar to going to a convenience store or grocery store.”

Though the school may get some tax income from the cannabis store, Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason said that marijuana is still a substance that adolescents should not use recreationally.

“While certainly the high school will appreciate some of the increased tax revenue that the town may gain, the reality is that we’re introducing something that is not legal for high school students to use and has the potential, while being a legal product, to be abused by people who are underage,” Mason said. “We’re introducing another intoxicant into society that we have properly used and managed and could be fine, but at the high school level has the potential for abuse and misuse.”

Some residents, such as Paul Warren, a father of two who started a corporation against a once-potential 1032 Beacon Street cannabis store, organized protests and have a website with a letter campaign; they believe a store could have taken away from what made the neighborhood special.

“St. Mary’s is a unique area within Brookline. It would change the unique character and culture of the neighborhood and a marijuana store should not do that,” Warren said. “My son learned to walk down the sidewalk by Waxy’s {1032 Beacon Street}. Imagine if there were thousands of people on that little block of stores every day—I would probably avoid that.”

For Warren, it is not marijuana he is against, but instead what may come with it, such as traffic, both on the T and in the streets close to 1032 Beacon Street, in what is known as a local district.

“The vibrant and engaged citizens, our neighbors, St. Mary’s, do not want it,” Warren said. “I am not against marijuana but all sites are not equal, and the Waxy’s site {1032 Beacon Street} is inappropriate. It would overwhelm the neighborhood.”

Ascend, the cannabis company that was hoping to open a recreational store on 1032 Beacon Street pulled out of its proposal on Mar. 7. Ascend was not available to comment.

What do teenagers think?

Even among some students, cannabis stores opening up in Brookline is a controversial issue.

D.S. feels that student use will not increase because of more marijuana stores, but that people should take the recent publicity to educate themselves on the topic.

“The way I see it—it’s just like anything else. I believe that everybody should be able to access it. It really comes down to ultimately how the education is being created,” D.S. said. “You hear it all the time: a big argument against these dispensaries is that it’s going to make it easier for kids to get a hold of this stuff, but speaking from the perspective of a kid, from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty apparent that kids are going to be able to find something if they want {to} and the fact that we have now higher quality and more regulated versions of the substances is a big plus.”

Though she does not feel it is the same as other substances, Solomon said marijuana use could lead to other habits.

“There’s something to be said for just not wanting this drug on the streets. Marijuana is not addictive in the same way that opioids are, but it is habit-forming and it is a drug that can lead to the abuse of other things,” Solomon said.

Solomon does, however, feel the dispensaries should be open for those who need it.

“Recreational dispensaries are good because they regulate the marijuana and make sure that it isn’t laced. They make sure that it is more safe than something somebody would buy off the street,” Solomon said. “Oftentimes it is over-prescribed or put into the wrong hands, but you have to trust that it does make a very good impact for people who have chronic pain syndrome or cancer or something like that.”

An anonymous senior, who smokes and has sold marijuana in the past, does not believe recreational stores will affect the school. He said that because of the price, students would be more likely to buy black market marijuana instead of going to a dispensary even if they were of legal smoking age. He does, however, expect that dispensary prices may drop as more start opening up.

“The black market will always be cheaper {for cannabis in general} because it’s not taxed. For good weed, the dispensaries will be cheaper, but there will always be a market for people who are cheap and want to buy s***ty weed,” he said.

The anonymous senior believes that most dealers at the school will not mind the stores. He said that many student dealers do not do it for the money.

“It’s different for each person—some people do want to go legit and some people are kind of scared if they don’t know how to invest their capital to go legit, but most dealers in high school don’t want to do it for the rest of their life,” the student said.

Nick Eddinger
The New England Treatment Access (NETA) is a group of patients, professionals and philanthropists who own the medical marijuana dispensary located on Route 9, which opened for business on Mar. 23.

A look at cannabis in the future

As more dispensaries start opening up, Social Worker Mary Minott said teenagers may be more likely to try cannabis.

“Everybody knows, and even students who smoke a lot of weed know, that marijuana is not good for the developing brain. And yet, a lot of kids enjoy using it,” Minott said. “And when you increase access to something, it’s going to be more available. You’re going to have more kids using. It really has to be balanced with increased education. Because it’s been illegal, there has been this counter-cultural rebellious kind of thing and I hope we can change the conversation to a health issue. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s a great thing for you to do a lot.”

Solomon also believes that education has to be a component in the legalization of cannabis as stores start opening up.

“It’s a fine line, a balance between the community, who has to be open to conversations about it, including parents with their children, but also you still have to realize that it is a drug and you need to be careful with what you’re doing,” Solomon said. “It becoming legalized is, in part, good because it leads to a lot more education and regulation and safety around marijuana, which is really positive, but it also can be bad as the stigma is removed and it leaves kids to be maybe more willing to try it.”

D.S. said that moving forward, the cannabis industry will most likely keep expanding.

“This is something that happens everywhere and the main way people want to deal with a lot of these issues, real change in general, is suppression,” D.S. said. “Rather than trying to suppress these things from happening, it makes more sense to encourage everybody to learn as much as they can about what’s happening because change is going to happen whether you want it or not. I can see why people feel that they need to be pushing back against this but in the end, this is the direction that the world is moving and it’s time—it makes sense to start acting like that.”

Contributing reporting by Sidonie Brown, Josh Gladstone, Taeyeon Kim, Madison Sklaver and Sabrina Zhou

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