Wu administration backs effort to streamline marijuana licensing in Boston

“A lot of folks voted for [legal marijuana] but don’t necessarily want it in their neighborhood.”

Steven Senne
Pure Oasis, which in 2020 opened Boston's first recreational marijuana shop, was rejected by the city's Zoning Board of Appeal when it attempted to open a second location in Brighton. Steven Senne/The Associated Press

Since the spring of 2020, marijuana companies trying to open facilities in Boston have been required to win approval from two separate city agencies: the relatively new Boston Cannabis Board and the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA). Now, Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration is throwing its weight behind an effort to streamline pot licensing by shifting nearly all authority to the seven-member cannabis board, part of its broader push to simplify the process of starting up a small business in the city.

Wu officials at a public hearing this week said the changes, first proposed by former city councilor Lydia Edwards, would make marijuana licensing faster and more predictable for applicants and neighbors. “It’s a very extensive permitting and licensing process that takes years and is very cumbersome and challenging for people to get through,” said Bryan Glascock, a deputy director at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, which convened the meeting. “We feel like the time is right to phase the zoning piece out of it and let the [cannabis board] do what it does best.”


But the proposal was met with skepticism by a number of neighborhood groups and city councilors Kenzie Bok and Michael Flaherty, who said it would weaken consideration of concerns raised by residents living near proposed marijuana facilities — especially in mixed commercial-residential districts where most businesses must win ZBA permission to open. Critics urged the planning agency to leave the ZBA in charge of siting marijuana firms and awarding exceptions to Boston’s required half-mile buffer between cannabis facilities. (The buffer was intended to prevent clusters of pot shops, but the city’s geography means officials will need to allow some marijuana retailers closer to one another to meet a state minimum of around 52 recreational shops.)

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