AP NEWS

Pot Comes to Lowell. Will the City Be Ready?

February 28, 2019

Lowell will become home to one of the few recreational pot dispensaries in the state when Patriot Care opens, tentatively scheduled for March 9.

Not wanting to repeat the traffic chaos caused by the crush of customers who descended on the first two everyday pots shops that opened last fall in Northampton and Leicester, city officials have had multiple meetings with Patriot Care staff to review appropriate traffic and parking plans.

Patriot Care has a few things in its favor.

It had a head start on traffic mitigation, since it already operates pot-related businesses at its 70 Industrial Avenue East location. Patriot Care converted its cultivation and manufacturing facility and dispensary there from medical only to combined medical and retail.

Situated on the city’s outskirts, near the Lowell Connector, Route 3 and Interstate 495, most Patriot Care customers should pose minimal overall traffic impact. Those concerns will likely be limited to streets in the immediate vicinity.

Anticipating a heavy volume of customers and curiosity seekers on its opening weekend, Patriot Care, in partnership with MassDOT, will have electronic message boards on both Interstate 495 and Route 3 directing traffic to the facility. Detail officers from Lowell and State Police also will help manage traffic, in addition to Patriot Care security personnel.

In addition to at least 80 parking spaces, Patriot’s also finalizing an agreement for an off-site lot with about 100 spaces, from which it will shuttle customers. Patriot also plans to ease congestion by taking preorders from those waiting in line.

The weekend opening also will allow both Patriot and city officials to evaluate traffic flow and patterns before the work week begins. Patriot’s scheduled hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

However, no matter how well a community prepares, outside factors will continue to create logistical challenges for pot establishments, especially Lowell’s.

One is the Cannabis Control Commission’s slow pace of final approvals.

The Lowell facility will become just the 10th operating recreational marijuana retail outlet, and the most convenient for customers from Greater Boston, the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, and southern New Hampshire. The nearest dispensary recently opened in Hudson on Feb. 13, 25 miles away. Alternative Therapies Group in Salem, which had been the closest, suspended retail operations last week while it tries to solve problems in posting inventory with the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system.

The other main problem is the lack of a retail outlet in the state’s largest city. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a vocal opponent of legalized marijuana, seems in no rush to see that happen.

The glacial pace of retail pot approvals means Patriot Care will be an indispensable pot dispensary for the foreseeable future. So, if marijuana isn’t on your shopping list, we advise giving the area around Patriot Care a wide berth on that opening weekend.