Newton marijuana store seeks end to appointment-only rule, as nearby competition grows

Garden Remedies is based in Newtonville, where it operates a store at 697 Washington St., but the company also owns retail stores in Marlborough and Melrose.

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A Newton ordinance passed in 2018 requires the city to allow a maximum of eight marijuana retailers. Garden Remedies opened in 2019, and seven other applicants are making their way through the approval process, which requires review by local and state authorities.

When Garden Remedies opened, the city took steps to address concerns that the store manage the flow of customers and cars, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement at the time.

Marijuana stores are not required to operate by appointment only under the city’s ordinance, but the City Council has included the restriction in the three special permits for retailers it has approved so far.

Herold said Garden Remedies has been working with the city’s Planning and Development Department, and will formally ask that the appointment-only restriction be lifted this year.

Meanwhile, city councilors are considering rules allowing marijuana courier and delivery businesses — separate from retail shops — to open in Newton. The proposed zoning changes will be the subject of a March 8 public hearing.

Legalization of retail marijuana in Newton has taken a circuitous route in recent years.

In 2016, a majority of Newton voters approved a state ballot question that, among other things, allowed a legal marketplace for retail marijuana in Massachusetts.

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Two years later, Newton voters in 2018 were asked to decide on a pair of non-binding local measures: one to outright ban marijuana shops, and another to restrict how many could open in the city. A majority of city voters turned down the restrictions.

Aside from Garden Remedies’ store in Newtonville, two other companies have reached agreements and secured special permits with Newton, and now seek licensing approval from the state Cannabis Control Commission before starting operations.

One is Cypress Tree Management at 24-26 Eliot St. in Newton Upper Falls. The other is Ascend Mass at the corner of Washington and Cross streets in West Newton.

Five other retail applicants have agreements with the city, and need local and state approvals. They are Nuestra at 1185 Chestnut St. in Newton Upper Falls; The Green Lady Dispensary II at 740 Beacon St. in Newton Centre; Verilife at 131 Rumford Ave. in Auburndale; and Union Twist at 1158 Beacon St. in the Four Corners area.

Union Twist, which withdrew its previous application for a special permit in the fall following traffic concerns, presented revised options to the Newton Highlands Neighborhood Area Council on Feb. 4, according to Marie St. Fleur, the company’s chief operating officer.

St. Fleur, who is also former state representative, said the company listened to feedback from residents and will propose a plan that replaces the existing building and includes less parking to help address potential traffic issues.

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The company hopes to formally apply for a special permit from the city by early March, she said.

“I appreciate the people who, I’ve felt, have come and really honestly wanted to work with us,” St. Fleur said. “Because they understand that we are trying to meet the requirements, we’re trying to run a business, and be good neighbors.”

Amanda Theunissen, a member of the council, criticized the new proposal, and said the store would generate the same amount of traffic as the earlier plan.

“In my view, this new proposal presents the same traffic problems as the last one,” Theunissen said in an e-mail.

MedMen is currently seeking to open at the former home of Shreve, Crump & Low at 232 Boylston St. (Route 9) in Chestnut Hill, and the proposal is being reviewed by the city.

Residents who spoke at a Jan. 26 public hearing held by the City Council’s Land Use Committee on the proposal raised concerns about traffic, signage, and parking at the site.

Thomas Lynch, the company’s interim chief executive, said in an interview that MedMen operates retail stores in California, Nevada, Illinois, Florida, and New York.

“The notion of just arriving in a neighborhood, and doing things as you please, is offensive to me, it’s offensive to us as a company,” Lynch said. “We don’t do that; we won’t do that.”

So far, things have been quiet at Garden Remedies’ store in Newtonville. Since the retail store opened in 2019, there haven’t been any issues, according to acting Police Chief Howard Mintz.

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Herold, with Garden Remedies, said company officials value their relationship with the city and have ongoing meetings with local officials, including city councilors, police, and the Planning Department.

Barney Heath, the city’s Planning and Development Department director, said in a statement that the department is “determining how best to evaluate the necessity of the appointment-only system” and whether the City Council should consider an amendment to the special permit.

The City Council has included a by-appointment rule in the special permits for Cypress Tree and Ascend, as well as Garden Remedies, according to the city.

“My intent, and the team that we built and have at Garden Remedies, [is] we’d just like to be given an opportunity,” Herold said. “I’m confident in my team that we can continue to operate in a perfect manner here.”


John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected]

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