The state granted a recreational marijuana license to a Brookline store Thursday, setting the stage for what town officials expect to be a mob scene when the outlet — the first within spitting distance of Boston — opens in a few weeks.
New England Treatment Access already runs a medical marijuana dispensary at the location, a former bank branch at the busy corner of Washington and Boylston streets. But police and neighbors are bracing for an onslaught as NETA opens up to the much bigger retail market.
“It’s already a very busy place as it is,” said Gladys Ruiz, owner of a nearby day care, Little Children Schoolhouse, who praised NETA for being a good neighbor since opening for medical sales in 2016. “I’m not worried about the opening day and week, even — I’m worried about what comes after.”
Ten other retail stores have opened for recreational pot sales around the state, though the store closest to Boston — 45 minutes away in Salem — has temporarily stopped nonmedical sales.
NETA has experience with crowd control. In November, its Northampton store drew 2,000 customers on opening day when it became one of the first two recreational shops on the East Coast.
“I’m concerned because it’s near two busy streets,” said Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, who grew up in Brookline. “It’s a challenging location.”
Before it can open, which is expected in about two to four weeks, NETA must register its inventory with the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system and pass a final inspection. Then, it will receive a “commence operations” notice.
“When that process is complete, we will be pleased to announce an opening date for adult-use sales in Brookline,” Amanda Rositano, director of compliance at NETA, said in a statement.
NETA sits near the Brookline Village stop of the MBTA’s Green Line D branch and the Riverway stop of the Green Line E branch, as well as several bus route stops. Street parking is limited; customers are being asked to take public transportation.
“We’ve been here 15 years, and it’s been difficult to park here for 15 years,” said Josh Ziskin, who owns La Morra, an Italian restaurant nearby. “The only negative I see is the parking.”
Residents and business owners in the area on Thursday largely supported NETA’s move to recreational sales, but most worried about the traffic.
Lines would form for “anything new,” Ziskin said, adding, “If there was an IKEA opening across the street, the lines would be the same.”
NETA does not plan to require appointments as a way to reduce traffic, a measure taken by Alternative Therapies Group in December when it opened its store in Salem. (ATG temporarily closed for nonmedical sales last month amid problems keeping track of its inventory.)
NETA does offer an app, Reserve Ahead, that allows people to place orders before arriving at the store for a “quick in-and-out experience.” However, those customers will still have to wait in line to pick up their purchases, police said.
Brookline police expect thousands of customers on opening weekend, said Lieutenant Michael Raskin, who has been preparing with NETA for months. At the town’s request, Raskin said, the store has agreed to open on a Saturday to give the police time to smooth out any kinks in the system before weekday traffic resumes.
“A lot of this is an unknown because this will be one of the first retail operations in the metro Boston area,” Raskin said. “They think that after a week or so, it’ll die down a little bit, but it really remains to be seen.”
Medical patients will have their own line at NETA when the doors open to recreational customers — like other pot shops have. One patient visiting the shop Thursday said he’s just happy that more people will have access to the products that have helped him.
“If it is [busy], we’ll just wait longer,” said Tom Burton, 46, of West Roxbury, sitting in his car outside NETA. “No sense getting upset about it.”
The store plans to close its 14-space parking lot to allow 800 to 1,000 people to line up there. If the line exceeds that number, people will queue single-file on the sidewalk, with police and NETA staff making sure there is enough space for pedestrians to pass. People in line will be told about the Reserve Ahead app to speed the process once they reach the front, Raskin said.
At Thursday’s cannabis commission meeting, Commissioner Shaleen Title suggested that regulators wait to vote on the license until they reviewed more information on the planned sale of NETA to national pot firm Surterra Wellness. As required by state regulations, NETA notified the commission of its intent to be bought, but the commission has not reviewed all the information or decided whether to approve it, she said.
“I’m wondering if it makes sense to consider that information once it’s been reviewed,” Title said.
Before a cannabis company can transfer its licenses to another entity, the commission must conduct background checks on the prospective new owners. NETA has said its sale to Surterra, announced in January, is contingent on regulatory approval.
But Hoffman, the commission chairman, said it would be “unfair” to hold up the license decision for a deal that could fall through or “take months or years” to complete. Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan agreed that such a deal, at this point, is “hypothetical.”
The commission voted 4-0 to approve the final license, with Title abstaining.
Other towns and cities will be watching Brookline closely. Two other proposed recreational marijuana stores, in Framingham and Newton, are seeking final licenses in upcoming weeks. In February, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller told residents in an e-mail that the city would require the shop there, Garden Remedies, to have a shuttle service, satellite parking, and an appointment system to manage traffic.