Over the past year, the IP team has thrown themselves into all things cannabis. And spoiler alert: It’s not all puffs of smoke and Easy Rider quotes. Opening a dispensary in New England is a long and arduous process that constantly changes.
We’ve worked on nearly every stage of the process in multiple municipalities. From the initial application, the Host Community Agreement process, positive impact plans, the various stages of licensing and inspections, this process can take years. Let alone actually marketing products! Each stage can feel like its own unique puzzle, riddled with new twists and turns. So let us pull back the curtain and tell you a little bit about what we’ve learned:
CANNABIS AND REAL ESTATE ARE NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT
One of the reasons we could quickly pivot into a new industry is that the permitting process of an adult-use facility is very similar to real estate. Community meetings and stakeholder outreach are crucial to both sectors, with a lot of nuance within each industry. In real estate, we often see neighbors concerned about scale, affordability and equity, public amenities, and rentals vs owned units. Cannabis has predictable community concerns of its own, notably parking, traffic, lines, crime, and diversion of cannabis to youths. But truthfully we’ve been quite surprised at just how much the general public is still afraid of cannabis, whether they voted for it or not. No matter how many studies come out about the health benefits of marijuana or how it is far safer than alcohol, anyone that opens a dispensary is up against decades of propaganda and thinly veiled racism.
NIMBY: NOT JUST FOR DEVELOPMENTS ANYMORE
The most common things we hear at community meetings? It’s usually a variance of “I don’t have an issue with people smoking pot. I just don’t want it near me!” This is particularly true in Boston, where neighbors view NETA in Brookline as an example of what’s to come in their neighborhood if a dispensary opens. Lines, lines, lines. In our opinion, NETA is not an example of the future. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of what happens when municipalities slow the process to a near standstill. While Boston took years deliberating over how to process applications, Brookline jumped ahead and took full advantage of the nearly $2 million in yearly tax revenue and community benefits NETA could offer (that’s right, that $2 million a year is just from one dispensary). For over a year, NETA was the only recreational dispensary in the greater Boston area. And as a result it quickly became one of the top performing adult-use facilities in the country. Just imagine if the greater Boston area only had one liquor store. There would be lines around the block. As of 1/27/21, Boston has given 30 host community agreements (one of the first steps in the process of opening a brick and mortar dispensary), and only two have opened.
If all of this sounds crazy, and it is! But it’s also a big part of what excites us about this burgeoning (or dare we say, “budding”) industry. We are fortunate to be in a place to actively effect change. All cannabis dispensaries have to incorporate robust diversity and inclusion programs, along with positive impact plans to demonstrate how the dispensary intends to be a good neighbor in their community. We’ve seen far too many dispensaries do far too little in this area. Simply checking the box is not good enough for us. We are excited to actively be pushing our clients to create meaningful programs that set the standard for industry. From brokering partnerships with nonprofits that focus on job placement for people with drug convictions, to setting robust hiring quotas to setting company culture initiatives that ensure dispensaries can overcome their “boys club” reputation, we look at these opportunities holistically. We aim to create a healthy ecosystem with the dispensary and the community at large.
There’s never a dull day in cannabis. Buckle up with us and enjoy the ride as we grow this exciting new arm of our business and explore what real estate and cannabis can learn from each other.
VP, Director of Operations