What to know about the push to repeal Boston’s pot shop buffer rule

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The unofficial start of summer is upon us, as you can tell by this weekend’s weather forecast and the, uh, return of sharks.

Stay away from those seals and let’s get to the news:

Buffer battle: A proposal to do away with a rule that ostensibly requires recreational marijuana dispensaries in Boston to be at least a half-mile away from each other has sparked debate among city councilors. As WBUR’s Simón Rios reports, the Boston Planning & Development Agency is pushing for zoning changes that repeal the buffer zone. But in doing so, the agency has also united members of the Council’s more moderate and liberal wings in opposition.

  • The case for repealing the buffer: The BPDA says the zoning rule is preventing Boston from reaching the 50 pot shops the city is required to permit. (That number is based on a state law that says local zoning must allow at least 20% as many pot shops as there are liquor stores.) Right now, Boston has around 30 adult-use pot shops; the BPDA says getting to 50 is “not possible” with the current mandate.
  • The case for keeping it: The buffer rule — which was originally approved by the City Council back in 2016 — was intended to keep pot shops from clustering in certain neighborhoods. According to City Councilor Ed Flynn, it serves as a “safeguard for the community voice and against potential negative impacts on quality of life issues.” Meanwhile, Councilor Julia Mejia argued it also protects dispensaries. “The entire business right now is down,” she said this week. “Just imagine spending millions of dollars and then someone else opens up and right next to you.”
  • Reality check: Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal has already repeatedly waived the buffer rule for existing shops. “A lot of approved dispensaries who have sought and gotten variances have gotten stuck in lengthy litigation for long periods of time,” said City Councilor Sharon Durkan, who supports getting rid of the buffer. Durkan noted potential pot shops would still have to go through a lengthy permit and community outreach process.
  • What’s next: The BPDA aims to get final approval from the city’s Zoning Commission this July. While councilors can’t directly block the change, they can try to rally opposition. Flynn has proposed a hearing on the subject, and is encouraging residents to speak out before the public comment period ends next Friday.

At long last: You’ll be able to tap your phone or credit card to pay MBTA bus and subway fares starting this summer, thanks to the rollout of the T’s new “automated fare collection” system. MBTA officials announced the launch yesterday, following years of delay and budget overruns. It’s the type of technology that’s been in use for years in cities like London and New York City. “It will make it easier to access our system,” General Manager Phil Eng said.

  • What to expect: Riders have probably noticed the new fare readers already mounted — in testing phase — on some buses and subway gates. Those will turn on for public use sometime this summer, meaning you’ll be able to pay your fare directly with a credit card, debit card, or mobile wallet like Apple Pay and Google Pay — no CharlieCard or ticket required. (The Mattapan Trolley won’t initially be included, but T officials say they’ll begin work to install readers at those stations this fall.)
  • What’s next: Coming in 2025, the T will add additional features, like a “mobile CharlieCard” and app for your phone. In 2026, they’ll expand the system to the commuter rail and ferries.

On Beacon Hill: The Massachusetts Senate passed its own budget proposal for the coming fiscal year late last night, after 14 hours of debate, over 400 amendments and one fire alarm. The $58 billion dollar bill includes some big ideas, like universally free community college and fare-free regional buses.

  • Now what? Members of the House and Senate will need to negotiate a compromise to send to Gov. Maura Healey when they return after the Memorial Day break. The new fiscal year starts on July 1 (but you know how Beacon Hill feels about that deadline).

P.S.— Boston honor roll students got to play this game at Fenway park this week. Do you know what it is? Take our Boston News Quiz and test your knowledge of this week’s stories.

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