Two local entrepreneurs are applying to open a weed shop next to the supermarket and just around the corner from our family neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass. So I went to the community meeting at the local VFA. The meeting was at four in the afternoon, when most of the parents were at work or on the school run. Hardly anyone turned up.
The entrepreneurs were highly entrepreneurial, friendly, and professional. They stacked the room with their old friends, all firm advocates for the healing virtues of getting totally toasted, day in, day out. They came with a slide show, and promises to create jobs for the local community, including LGBTQ people and reformed convicts. They even came with an ex-police officer who described the Fort Knox-like security arrangements — double doors, basement vaults, 15 security cameras — required to dissuade other entrepreneurs from robbing their stash at gunpoint.
The shop they want to use is in a row up the side of the Star Market supermarket. The shops cater to local families. Star Market is the closest supermarket to Haggerty School; an eight-minute walk. Kids from this neighborhood school come to Star Market to buy snacks, before and after school. Teenagers go there too after school, too. The giant Star Market car park would be an ideal location for the secondary distribution of legally purchased weed to children.
Of course, state law obliges the entrepreneurs to suggest ideas for preventing the ‘diversion to minors’ of their product. But anyone who’s walked through the fragrant halls of our high school knows that current diversionary tactics are completely useless. The entrepreneurs didn’t have an answer to that one. But it’s not their problem, right?
The easier it is for the children to score, the more they smoke. And the more they smoke, the more they use other drugs and suffer mental illness and educational failure. We already hear stories of hospitalization and hard drug use among the 15-year-olds whom we remember as cheerful little third graders.
The entrepreneurs expect so many customers that they admit that the parking spots outside the row of shops won’t be adequate. They told us that they want to use Star Market’s car park for the overflow. They haven’t yet talked to Star Market about this.
The Star Market car park is the closest our neighborhood has to a public square. The experiments in California and Oregon show that licensing weed sales draws out-of-area and even out-of-state traffic, and the associations with organized crime and violence that legalization is supposed to prevent. So our quasi-public square may turn into a quasi-drug mart for the cutting of deals and settling of scores.
More dangerously, there’s a halfway house just around the corner from the supermarket. Opening a weed store on its doorstep is like opening a liquor store in the lobby of Alcoholics Anonymous. Everyone knows that heavy weed smoking can make people psychotic, especially if it’s the artificially engineered skunk that already makes our city smell of cat urine. Weed advocates, who are either stoners or people in the legal or illegal business of dealing to stoners, admit that anyone of delicate mind shouldn’t be smoking weed, and that not everyone can handle it. Apart, that is, from one of the entrepreneurs, who told me he’d never known anyone to have an adverse reaction.
Our neighborhood, like any other affluent, quasi-suburban and almost entirely white neighborhood, is already home to teenagers stoked to the gills and parents embarrassed into silence by their liberalism and their own furtive pot habits. Even an entrepreneur who doesn’t get high on his own supply would see that our children represent a great business opportunity. They have their parents’ money to burn. And money, drug money and tax money, is what this is about.
It’s true that my objections are those of the NIMBY: the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ type who wish to benefit from roads and power plants, but doesn’t want them spoiling the view from his kitchen. But then, I didn’t vote to legalize the sale of weed as a tax revenue generator. I don’t believe that smoking weed is a low-risk activity with minimal social costs. I doubt the wisdom of legalization, too. I have come to accept that these opinions may make me unhip in the eyes of my near-geriatric peer group. I defer to the collective wisdom of my fellow citizens. Some of them came to the meeting, stoned.
Our system of laws and democracy has worked perfectly in this case. Former House Speaker John Boehner is set to launch the National Cannabis Roundtable today, an industry-backed legalization lobbying group. Progressive Massachusetts is, of course, ahead of the curve: Cambridge City Council voted unanimously last September to legislate the weed business, and Cambridge’s Planning Board then wrote the zoning laws, which keep weed shops a mere 300 feet away from schools. Before that, the people of the Bay State had voted in favor of Question 4 on the 2017 ballot by 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent. Lower-income suburbs like Quincy and Brockton were barely in favor of legalization: Quincy’s voters favored legislation by 51.1 percent to 49.9 percent. But liberal, affluent Cambridge was strongly in favor, 71.5 percent to 29.5 percent.
So liberal democracy at its most liberal now presents the voters of Cambridge with a rare dilemma. The wealthy of America are used to passing the social costs of their liberalism to the poor; out of sight on the other side of town is out of mind. For once, however, 71.5 percent of Cambridge will be confronted with the consequences of their votes and attitudes.
The application process is under way. This story will run and run. If it can be bothered to get off the couch.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.