Medical Marijuana Dispensary Coming to Downtown Crossing in Early 2016

Boston's Zoning Board of Appeals has finally cleared the way for Patriot Care to set up shop at 21 Milk Street.

Patriot Care

Click to Enlarge. / Photo by Kyle Clauss

Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted Tuesday to award Patriot Care a conditional use permit to operate at 21 Milk Street in Downtown Crossing, after three hearings on the proposed medical marijuana dispensary.

Patriot Care offered more than a few spoonfuls of sugar to make the prospect of the dispensary in the neighborhood go down a little easier. The shop, open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., would have virtually no signage, and vowed to never sell recreational marijuana no matter how the law changes in the coming years. Patriot Care will also pay for police detail, enhanced lightning, and other security measures at the direction of Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans.

“We feel that this package is more robust than anything that has come before Massachusetts, or nationwide,” former City Councilor Mike Ross, representing Patriot Care, told the board.

“Our concessions are very consistent with who we are as a company in terms of trying to make the community as comfortable as possible to deal with the concerns they have. I think we made a lot of concessions that we haven’t needed to make elsewhere,” Patriot Care president Robert Mayerson said. “What people will find is, no one will even know that the dispensary was even there, over time.”

Patriot Care committed to donating between 750 to 1,000 square feet of frontage space to an unrelated entity “to activate the pedestrian realm with more activity and further submerge any presence of the dispensary,” and presented letters of intent from three local parties: the Cambridge Innovation Center, whose offices are located across the street at 50 Milk Street; Danger!Awesome, a Cambridge-based laser-cutting and 3D printing startup; and Artists Crossing, which seeks to open a gallery of work by Downtown Crossing artists.

District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley spoke in favor of the dispensary and its location at 21 Milk Street, arguing that while he doesn’t often speak on matters outside his district, Patriot Care is “a model of what should be done in the City of Boston, in Suffolk County, for people who are suffering.”

Representatives of Councilors Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, and Josh Zakim also read statements of support. Representatives of City Council President Bill Linehan (whose district the dispensary is located), Stephen Murphy, and Michael Flaherty offered opposition, citing neighborhoods concerns, as well as accessibility for pain-stricken patients.

“The Mayor has always said that he will uphold the law that was passed by Massachusetts voters, and he is pleased that over the past few months, Patriot Care has worked closely with the Administration to address many of the neighborhood concerns,” Mayor Marty Walsh’s press secretary Bonnie McGilpin said in a statement.

St. Francis House executive director Karen LaFrazia, whose late father was a medical marijuana patient, spoke in opposition to Patriot Care. “We have been working for many years now with the neighborhood associations to really improve the image of the Downtown Crossing area, to integrate the people that we serve,” she said. “The location of this dispensary goes against a lot of the work that we at St. Francis House have done as an institution in terms of changing the image of the neighborhood.”

LaFrazia fears the dispensary’s close proximity to St. Francis House, the largest day shelter in New England for the poor and homeless, would raise problems for those it serves with substance abuse issues, who could be prone to “going down to the dispensary and preying on the patients there.”

Patriot Care is aiming for a January 2016 opening, pending the completion of its cultivation center in Lowell. Mayerson said a Massachusetts bank has agreed to do business with Patriot Care, but declined to name which one.

When the dispensary finally opens for business, Mayerson says there will be no fanfare. As a former executive at Eastern Mountain Sports, he said he’s more accustomed to wielding ice axes at ribbon-cuttings.

“You have to be careful on the back-swing,” he laughed.