Watertown’s First Marijuana Dispensary Gets Approval from ZBA

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Watertown’s first recreational marijuana dispensary received approval from the Zoning Board, but Town officials will be keeping an eye on lines and traffic at the facility in East Watertown. 

On Jan. 22, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the special permit requested by Natural Selections to make changes to prepare for adult-use marijuana sales. 

When sales will begin at the dispensary in a building at the rear of the 23 Elm St. is not certain. Chief Operating Officer Aidan O’Donovan said medical marijuana sales will begin when the state’s Cannabis Control Commission gives approval. The group hopes to be on the CCC’s agenda in February. Approval to start adult-use sales could take up to a year.

Town officials worry about people lining up outside the business, and cars backing up out of the parking lot to get access to the dispensary when it opens for recreational sales. The Planning Board recommended approval of the special permit with a condition requiring Natural Selections to have a reservation system for customers when it first opens for recreational marijuana sales. Customers will have to register online to get a time slot before coming in. 

ZBA Chair Melissa SantucciRozzi said she wants to avoid what she has seen at Brookline’s NETA dispensary, where people line up outside, and added the Garden Remedies dispensary on Washington Street in Newton does not have any lines.

“The Newton one, you don’t even know it’s there; and the Brookline one, you wonder what they’re giving away?” SantucciRozzi said. “And I don’t want the ‘what are they giving away’ scenario in Watertown, ever.”

Representatives from Natural Selections said they do not want to have to require reservations permanently because they fear they will lose customers to other dispensaries which do not require a reservation. O’Donovan added that he grew up in Newton, and said that he has heard complaints from nearby residents that they see people parking in the neighborhood, or circling, while waiting for their reservation time. He added that Garden Remedies has no parking, while Natural Selections will have 22 parking spaces. 

ZBA member Frances Gomes Flor said that she does not drive, and expects many people to use rideshares, like Uber or Lyft, or take the bus to get to the dispensary. Also, there are spaces for six bikes in a rack outside.

The dispensary would have someone in the parking lot directing people to the parking, and checking to see if they have reservations, said Dan Linksy, the security manager for Natural Selections.

The original condition for the reservations called for having them for week before they are reviewed. Some of the ZBA members were uneasy about a definite length of time being put in the condition, fearing the dispensary could argue they could remove reservations after the week ends. SantucciRozzi suggested that the ZBA be the ones that decides if the reservations are no longer needed.

The dispensary’s attorney, Mike Ross, said that he prefers having town officials from the Police or the Community Development and Planning Department determine when the reservations can be lifted, and when they need to be put back on. He said they can always require reservations if there is a busy time, such as before a holiday weekend. 

ZBA member Chris Heap said heap while there will likely be a time when no reservations are needed, he would like to see some way to measure if they are no longer needed. Also, conditions for when Natural Selections would have to have reservations again.

“I would like see no lines, no people loitering out front and no traffic issues,” Heap said. “You can’t have cars backing up.”

SantucciRozzi said the situation will be reviewed after six months, and again six months later. After that, she said town officials would re-assess to see how often the situation at Natural Selections need to be reviewed.

The ZBA voted unanimously to approve the special permit. 

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