In February 2016, New England Treatment Access (NETA) opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Brookline. Parking, pedestrian safety, public consumption of marijuana, and diversion of products to young people were among the many concerns addressed over the next several years in our New England town of approximately 58,000 residents. Following a somewhat bumpy opening, residents and small business owners in Brookline Village slowly adapted to the presence of our new guest.
Then, in November of 2016, over 60% of Brookline voters supported Question 4, a “proposal to legalize marijuana but regulate it” as a recreational drug similar to alcohol. Two years later, our Select Board approved NETA’s request to expand its business model by offering recreational marijuana.
Next door, in the city of Newton, officials approached the new recreational marijuana industry with forethought and caution, leveraging their position as a host community to strengthen public support for retail marijuana while reaping the significant benefits of this new revenue source. For example, Newton’s licensing board wisely chose to help regulate customer and vehicle traffic by requiring appointments and limiting hours of operation, thereby minimizing impacts on neighborhoods.
Brookline, however, has chosen a very different path. In their haste to enrich and exploit this new source of tax revenue, the town’s optimistic Select Board granted NETA’s request to expand their opening hours dramatically, from 59 hours to 86 hours per week. The Board further neglected to include in NETA’s operational license the conditions necessary to protect direct abutters, residents living on neighboring streets, thousands of commuters using Brookline Village’s public ways, and vulnerable small businesses from the unbridled impacts of the most profitable marijuana retail outlet in the entire country, whose reported revenue totals in 2019 were quadruple those of the second largest U.S. retailer.
In essence, Brookline’s Select Board pointed a massive fire hose directly at the close-knit community of Brookline Village, and then NETA turned on the water, full force.
As the first walk-in recreational marijuana retailer in the Greater Boston area, NETA was (and continues to be) completely overwhelmed by the sheer, unchecked volume of customers. Even on the coldest, darkest winter nights, patrons can be found queueing in their small parking lot–a lot that adequately served the needs of NETA’s medical dispensary customers, but which is now completely closed to vehicles. NETA refuses to provide actual data, but they allege to serve an average of 320 recreational customers per hour (not including customers with medical cards). Third-party traffic studies have shown that somewhere between 46-60% of those thousands of daily customers travel to and from Brookline Village in a private motor vehicle.
NETA continues to turn a deaf ear to neighbors’ pleas, insisting on queueing customers in their parking lot instead of implementing any sort of plan to regulate volume. Since their opening day on March 23, 2019, NETA has been in clear violation of the terms of their license; in addition to the tremendous public nuisance caused by their operations, provision of on‐site parking for recreational customers is a condition of NETA’s special permit from the Town. Sadly, Brookline officials have failed time and time again to oversee the retailer’s operations, to respond appropriately to constituents’ complaints, and to hold NETA accountable for their many infractions.
Both NETA and the majority of Brookline’s leadership have made a collective decision to prioritize profit over regulatory compliance, the needs of residents and small businesses, and responsible corporate citizenship. This unfortunate choice has squeezed hundreds of new motor vehicles each hour onto nearby residential streets, not to mention into metered spaces previously used by patrons of now-struggling local businesses.
A small number of parking spaces made available free of charge for NETA customers at a Boyston Street garage remain mysteriously empty all day long, even during peak hours. Meanwhile…
- NETA’s thousands of daily recreational marijuana customers now flood nearby streets, bringing with them shocking amounts of vehicle traffic, crowds, noise, litter, aggression, and public consumption of marijuana, long after sunset every day of the week.
- White Place, Walnut Street, and other residential side streets are now flooded daily with a constant stream of motor vehicles–circling, cruising, crawling, u-turning, parking, honking, beeping, sounding alarms, flashing headlights and blinkers, locking, unlocking, revving, braking, bumping into curbs, reversing, illegally taking up handicapped spaces, blocking crosswalks, obstructing private driveways, endangering pedestrians, emitting marijuana smoke out of cracked windows, and (especially once winter arrived) idling for up to an hour at a time, while passengers inside look at their phones and wait for the drivers to return from NETA.
- Out-of-town drivers trying to patronize the many cherished small businesses in Brookline Village and on Boylston Street have nowhere to park, inflicting serious hardship on vulnerable local establishments and their proprietors.
- Increased police enforcement of the (once relaxed) 2-hour maximum parking regulation has no effect on NETA customers, most of whom are in Brookline Village for less than an hour and take advantage of free parking in nearby residential zones–parking that is intended for guests of residents. Sadly, a large number of parking tickets now seem to be given to not only residents’ guests, but also to employees, shoppers, diners, and patrons at other destinations in the Village–consumers who would like to stay for longer periods and spend more money supporting our vibrant local economy and culture.
- Large numbers of busy Uber and Lyft drivers double park, break traffic and parking laws, behave with aggression toward pedestrians, discard old water bottles and coffee cups full of urine on sidewalks and on window ledges, and pick up/drop off passengers in inconsiderate (and often dangerous) places.
NETA’s beautiful building at 160 Washington Street is part of the Brookline Village Commercial District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once an anchor for a dense, closely-knit neighborhood, this grand old landmark previously served as the headquarters for Brookline Bank. Now, it resembles either a derelict lot victimized by urban blight or a busy warehouse loading dock in an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city.
- Several (seemingly permanent) temporary toilet stalls sit in a row at the edge of the parking lot, generally unused by NETA customers. (Some NETA customers who’ve been confronted after being discovered urinating in public complain that “NETA has no bathrooms.”)
- Battered rubber traffic cones, huge orange & white construction barrels, dented jersey barriers, and crowd management ribbons litter the open space, delineating various queuing areas for reserve-ahead and walk-in customers. (NETA has recently announced plans to install “concrete barriers” in the parking lot to protect queueing customers from vehicle traffic; whether any attempt will be made to beautify such barriers to coordinate with the building’s regal architecture is yet to be seen.)
- Huge, black, industrial-sized garbage cans loom over the public sidewalk, forming an imposing line separating the queue of marijuana customers from parades of preschoolers walking with their teachers to and from the beleaguered day care center next door.
- Marijuana customers cluster loosely around the entrance and exit to the building, usually trying to avoid using the designated pickup area for Uber and Lyft, blocking sidewalks and roadways, and generating what one Town Meeting Member referred to as a “carnival” atmosphere–on all but four days of the year, no matter the weather or time of day.
- Employees on breaks smoke cigarettes, use vape devices, and sometimes smoke marijuana (the strong odor of which was once detected wafting up from a group of smoking employees by a neighbor at 7:50 a.m. on a Tuesday) in a highly visible corner at the back of the building.
- The pungent aroma of marijuana flower is now recognized and discussed by local schoolchildren, residents, and on-foot commuters; the odor mingles with the fresh air around NETA’s exit door every time it opens.
- Security concerns dictate that bright flood lights illuminate of the entire site 24 hours a day, wiping the few visible stars entirely from the sky and sending blinding beams into neighbors’ bedroom and kitchen windows.
- A new trash can was recently plopped down on the sidewalk at the edge of NETA’s property, next to a couple of signs asking NETA customers not to use marijuana in public and providing misleading information about parking availability on residential streets. Both the trash can and the signs have been defaced with graffiti (as have a number of smaller trash bins and street signs); NETA packaging is often found on the ground near the trash can; and the signs are universally ignored, reflecting the rapidly degrading relationship between NETA’s customers and their host community.
- The Washington Street bridge along the edge of NETA’s property and up to Harvard Square is now a favorite spot for panhandlers (at least one of whom has been seen gratefully receiving small gifts of marijuana products from NETA customers) and local teens who solicit customers emerging from the store, asking to buy some of their recently purchased marijuana products.
- Residents and small business owners have reported seeing passenger vehicles with out-of-state license plates carrying large numbers of people, some of whom speak freely about their activities when asked, and many of whom report visiting NETA multiple times within a single day. It’s nearly impossible to determine for certain whether the large amounts of marijuana products stored in these passenger vehicles are later transported illegally across state lines, and whether those products are then redistributed illegally within those neighboring states, which would yield a tidy profit to these out-of-state customers.
- Late night/early morning deliveries and waste management activities sometimes disrupt the peace and quiet formerly enjoyed by residents, with rumbling engines, bright headlights, and employees shouting to one another.
- During NETA’s evening hours nearly every day, a seemingly endless parade of motor vehicles pull into and out of the shoulder in front of NETA, as well as up and down Washington Street, Boylston Street, and residential Walnut Street, Upland Road, and White Place–all quiet, quaint, historical public ways where motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic used to subside following evening rush hours, bringing relative peace and quiet to residents in early evenings, on weekends, and on public holidays.
We now know what an operation of this type looks like and the impact it can have on our neighborhoods in the absence of appropriate and effective regulation.
This site aims to support residents and small local business owners in the Town of Brookline by…
- Serving as a one-stop-shop of useful information on marijuana in Brookline, individual retailers, impacts on abutters, and relevant news, as it breaks.
- Offering options for getting involved and taking action, whether you’re a resident, a small business owner, a commuter, an elected official, a Town employee, or anyone who wants to help out or improve the situation in Brookline.
It cannot be repeated often enough that
we are not interested in re-litigating marijuana decriminalization,
banning marijuana sales in the Town of Brookline, or
shutting down any of the Town’s 4 legal marijuana operations.
We want only for Brookline officials to correct their past mistakes and properly regulate these high-volume, motor-vehicle intensive mega-retailers that are on track to take over completely the Brookline Village, Coolidge Corner, and Commonwealth Avenue neighborhoods.
Our team consists entirely of dedicated residents and elected officials volunteering our time, working very hard, and managing our own busy lives on top of doing this work on behalf of our community… but if you reach out, we will do our best to get back to you as soon as possible.