'Not in My Neighborhood'
Entrepreneur|March 2020
Sometimes a community just isn’t ready to welcome a strange new business. Here’s how dispensaries have managed to quell (or be defeated by) local objections.
MARK HAY

On October 25, 2018, some 120 concerned citizens in Brookline, Mass., took to the streets, waving placards and chanting slogans, to protest a development they believed would imperil the local children and businesses: a retail cannabis shop.

The protesters soon organized themselves into Save St. Mary’s Neighborhood, a powerful coalition that collected more than 1,200 letters opposing the proposed store. They argued that the dispensary would bring in too much traffic, clogging streets and changing the character of the neighborhood. They argued that it would be a bad influence in a family-minded area, with at least 13 nearby youth-oriented institutions. They argued that the store would be, by their analyses, in slight violation of several zoning ordinances. They even argued that retail cannabis is so new, opening up a shop would be akin to subjecting locals to “a big experiment.”

These kinds of arguments are not unique to the pot. Other controversial businesses also face community pushback—from bars to discount stores. Why? Some residents are concerned that these outlets will attract crime and other undesirable elements to their neighborhood. Others fear the impact they will have on the value of their homes.

With cannabis, there’s a particularly stark disconnect between people’s attitudes and openness. The Pew Research Center found that while around 90 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, nearly half said they’d be concerned about a dispensary opening in their area.

That’s exactly what happened to Ascend, the Brookline dispensary. The city voted 60 percent in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis in 2016. As one local resident explained it to reporters, “I’m a libertarian, and I think if you want to smoke pot, have a blast.” Yet when faced with the prospect of a dispensary opening in her backyard, she hedged: “But not here.”

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