Recreational marijuana could generate millions in tax dollars for Massachusetts, giving the state’s economy a nice boost.
But what impact is the industry having on the quality of life of the communities they operate in?
25 Investigates spent weeks looking at how marijuana retail shops impact their local neighborhoods and found many communities have largely benefited from a dispensary’s presence.
"My police chief has very few reports of any incidents,” said David Genereux, the Leicester Town Administrator, when asked about the impact of Cultivate, the local cannabis dispensary. “There's been no real complaints after the first week or two of operation."
Cultivate was one of the first dispensaries to roll out recreational sales late last year. New England Treatment Access (NETA) was the other. Both establishments opened to the public on November 20th.
The following month Alternative Therapies Group in Salem, Verilife in Wareham and Insa in Easthampton began selling recreational marijuana to adults.
Through a public records request, 25 Investigates obtained police service calls and complaints in those five communities to see if there has been an uptick in serious crime or violence around those facilities since recreational sales began.
We collected and analyzed over two months of police reports, starting with the first day of recreational sales, and compared it to police reports for the same period a year earlier.
In Northampton and Easthampton, service calls to the business location and neighboring addresses went down after recreational sales went into effect.
Salem and Wareham each had one complaint related to the recreational marijuana dispensary.
Leicester saw a slight increase in service calls compared to the year before.
"We haven't seen any uptick in criminal activity or anything having to do with that," added Genereux. "We have a local big box retailer that keeps us a lot more busy than Cultivate ever would."
In most cases, however, the bulk of the calls involved traffic and parking issues. Many towns experienced heavy traffic and parking problems during the initial days.
Among the most serious complaints we found:
- Leicester police dealt with a protester and a couple of disturbances at Cultivate
- Police in Northampton investigated a report of a man making a sexually aggressive gesture toward a female patron, as well as a call about a protestor who placed a Make America Great Again hat outside the shops along with four signs containing threats against selling drugs.
- Salem police questioned a man who was trying to sell marijuana outside the store to people waiting in line
- Police in Wareham responded to a call about a someone trying to pass a counterfeit bill.
Dispensaries have their own security responsible for checking customer identification before entering the store. Many also hire police details to help with traffic and other issues.
"That's intended to ensure that quality of life issues are addressed, and that anything that is more substantial than that is addressed as well,” said Britte McBride with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. “We want for the dispensaries to be operating as good neighbors.”
McBride adds that strict rules and regulations, including surprise inspections, have been put into place to ensure dispensaries operate within the law and in the interest of the community they serve.
"We still have a ways to go as we are operating and opening additional retailers and I think that this is the standard that we are setting and are going to be requiring as we move forward," she said.
25 Investigates talked to residents and visitors near some of the dispensaries. All agreed that, overall, the marijuana retail store have not had much of a negative impact near and around the neighborhood.
"I don't see people wandering the streets half out of it or anything like that. The Police have done a fantastic job keeping everything controlled and contained," said Matthew Bolduc, a school teacher who lives near Leicester and drives by Cultivate dispensary every day.
Some felt having the presence of police at these shops made the community safer.
"I think bar rooms and all that can be just as bad as marijuana shops,” said Pat Siimes. “I think [marijuana retailers} have day time hours mostly and they’re well-known to have police and everything else."
But critics argue that strict regulations and security measures are not enough to keep long term social ills, like addiction and violence, at bay and that communities may soon begin to see negative effects.
"There's many studies that show that there is a causal link between marijuana use and subsequent violent outcomes," said Heidi Heilman, President of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, a non-profit that works to protect youth from addiction and substance abuse.
Heilman told 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel that recreational marijuana dispensaries are a magnet for crime and violence, pointing to states like Colorado and Washington where crime rates have started to climb.
"When the public digs in to the research and digs in to what’s happening in other states that have legalized, they’re starting to become aware that this isn't going to be a grand slam of making more money for a healthy community. In fact, it's going to do just the opposite," she said.
This past Saturday, Massachusetts’ thirteenth recreational marijuana store opened in Brookline, making it the first to operate in the Greater Boston area.
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