Dorchester pot shop plan meets community resistance

October 11, 2018

Upham’s Corner marijuana dispensary has residents concerned about traffic and safety

Residents meet with shop owners in Dorchester’s Strand Theater to discuss future business plans. Photo: Kyler Sumter

More than 60 area residents attended a community meeting in Dorchester’s Strand Theater Monday night, 184 feet away from the storefront that was once Cataloni’s Bar, now the proposed new home for a recreational marijuana shop.

While a few supported the proposal, many in attendance vehemently opposed the idea of locating the pot shop at 8-12 Hancock Street, citing traffic concerns. The room turned hostile as attendees discussed the potential for customers further crowding the area on an already congested street in Uphams Corner.

Cool reception

“We don’t want it here!” some attendees shouted. They questioned two of the owners, Benjamin Virga and Luke Marut: “What’s your business plan?”

In a quick response, on Tuesday the owners changed their business plan from a walk-in retail setup to an app-based, appointment-driven setup. A third owner of the proposed shop was not in attendance.

At the meeting, Domingos DaRosa, who runs Boston Bengals, a Pop Warner football and cheerleading program, expressed concern about how regularly his participants would be near the potential shop.

“The children I serve live off of Hancock. They’re going to walk by this to get to the field,” said DaRosa during the meeting. “They’re already dealing with enough stress in their neighborhood, and we don’t need to add this to their cycle of living.”

He continued, “Bringing this dispensary isn’t going to make Hancock safer, because the dispensary isn’t bringing anything positive.”

Virga said the new format announced Tuesday should alleviate lines of people on the street outside the shop.

“Our plan would be to open as a reservation-based retail shop allowing us to better plan our daily staffing, deliveries and customer experience, in addition to minimizing lines outside of our proposed location,” Virga wrote in an email to two Uphams Corner civic associations Tuesday. “Customers will need to reserve time slots that are available based on the limitations of our store. Walk up business will receive the option of waiting inside our waiting room and will be encouraged to use the time to visit/shop at other stores in Upham’s Corner.”

In addition, Virga promised that products won’t be advertised, will be tamper-proof, and the packaging won’t be enticing to children. He said the goal is for sales to be half in person and half online.

Virga and Marut, who have worked in real estate in Dorchester for 10 years, recently formed a company to pursue licenses for recreational cannabis. Last week, they signed a host community agreement with the town of Berkley, Massachusetts for a site there where they will focus on marijuana production and cultivation. In Boston, they have a purchase and sale agreement with the owner of Cataloni’s where they plan to conduct their dispensing and selling, if approved, after they apply with the state.

Location, location

During his presentation Monday night, Virga also addressed the question looming in many minds: Why Dorchester?

The business owners said they looked at crime in Boston Police District C-11 and read a California study about marijuana dispensaries. The study showed that in certain California neighborhoods, crime decreased when dispensaries were opened, potentially because those selling drugs illegally didn’t want to compete, and crime increased when those dispensaries closed.

“It only reinforced our desire to bring the dispensary to this location,” Virga said. “Would our investors have preferred that we chased after Newbury Street? Yes. But we’ve spent the last 10 years here, and we know this community and we love this community. And we saw [that] this data felt very positive and [we’re] very focused on trying to do it here.”

There is a thorough application process for these businesses, placing the potential opening of the shop at least one year away.

But many Dorchester residents don’t believe the dispensary will help with issues like drug crimes that currently plague the community.

“The fact that you did a study of our crime, perhaps you should be doing that to help us and not to come put a marijuana dispensary,” resident Joao DePina said. “Perhaps you should look into creating a teen center or something that can educate the people.”

City Councilor Frank Baker of District 3 attended the meeting and said he has received five applications for marijuana dispensaries from different companies.

“I’m not looking to block this business by any stretch. I’m looking for thoughtful ways to roll it out,” Baker said during the public testimony portion of meeting. “I do believe that within this business there’s an opportunity for us as a society to train and get people into this industry. This, I don’t think, is an appropriate location.”

Among his concerns, Baker said the building has no perimeter and no place to discreetly bring in the products.

City of Boston representatives will take the residents’ comments to Alexis Tkachuk, the city’s director of emerging industries, who will make the final decision. In the meantime, Virga plans to continue meetings with the Jones Hill and Hancock Street civic associations later this month.

Story published via a special arrangement with BU News Service. Originally published here.


Youth Radio/YR Media Clips

Here are some of my favorite stories from my time with Youth Radio this summer. I was part of a pilot team of writers tasked with revitalizing YR’s website with new content and ideas.

Here’s Why People Want LeBron James to Replace Betsy DeVos

Community Calls for Justice for Black Bay Area Teen Killed at BART Station

Answers to All Your Questions About the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy

9 Teens on Why They’re Spending Their Summer Working in News

Meet the 23-Year-Old Chicago Activist Running for Mayor


The risks of journalism

“What happens on the ground?”

In 1965, 600 marchers assembled in Selma, Alabama to march to Montgomery for the voting rights of Black citizens. Press coverage of this event played a large role in the world seeing Americans non-violently protesting for their rights and being met with violent opposition by police and officials.

When the protestors reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, State troopers ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the troopers shot tear gas into the crowd and beat them. More than 50 were hospitalized, which is how the event got its name “Bloody Sunday.” Former White House Correspondent and NBC Reporter Richard Valeriani was covering the march when he was attacked by a man with an axe. When passersby saw the attack, they didn’t help for one reason: he was a journalist.

He remembers one saying: “We don’t have doctors for people like you.”

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Valeriani writing a story from his Selma hospital bed in 1965.

Since the 1960s, hostility towards journalists hasn’t gone away. In an April 2018 report Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog, found a rise in animosity toward reporters and a decrease in press freedoms, mostly in former Soviet countries but also in the U.S. and other democratic countries. Reporters Without Borders said several democratic leaders “no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning” while singling out President Trump.

To commemorate World Press Freedom Day yesterday, Vox made an Instagram story featuring statistics on press freedom.



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Some of Trump’s critics have blamed his “fake news” rhetoric for the arrests of journalists around the world. After a Committee to Project Journalists report showed a record number of 21 journalists were arrested with “false news” charges, Sen. John McCain and Activist Shaun King saw a direct correlation between Trump’s rhetoric and press freedom.





“There’s been a lot more aggression towards the media,” said Boston University Journalism Professor Greg Marinovich. “Has this resulted in any physical attacks? Not that I know of. But I think that’s to come.”

When covering violence in South Africa during the 1990s transition from an apartheid regime to a democracy, Marinovich was shot three times and once fled the country to avoid a 10-year prison sentence.

“My lawyer said ‘I don’t usually tell this to my clients but I think you should buy a flight.’”

Greg Marinovich after being shot in a 1994 gun battle, in which his colleague Ken  Oosterbroek, who is pictured in the background, did not survive.

His Pulitzer-Prize winning coverage came at several costs. The relationship between the press and the two political parties battling for dominance was strained.

“The old white apartheid government was very negative,” Marinovich said. “And there were a lot of press restrictions, but no one really wanted us covering the war, because the participants would be charged with murder.”

Marinovich has watched the landscape change with the introduction of social media, and believes it’s both “a protector and a threat” to journalists.

“Everyone having a cell phone means they can document your death,” he said smiling, “which is fabulous for the flow of information and truth.”

“But it also seems to have antagonized police and authoritarians more because they don’t want to be outed on social media or appear a week later in some newspaper or magazine or television.”

In 2014, after an unarmed black man named Michael Brown was killed by a Missouri police officer, thousands flocked to Ferguson, MO in protest. Videos from Washington Post Reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post Reporter Ryan Reilly, went viral after they were arrested and assaulted inside of a McDonald’s near the protests for trespassing and not leaving the premises quickly. They were held overnight without explanation and were released in the morning.

“If you think of Ferguson, there were professional journalists being arrested and their cards being taken. Which is completely illegal, but they were doing it,” Marinovich said. “There’s the law and there’s the law, what happens on the ground?”



Journalists being caught in the crossfire at protests is just part of the territory says Valdya Baraputri, a second-year BU graduate student and Metro TV News Indonesia Correspondent.

“I know the difference between Indonesian tear gas and American tear gas,” Baraputri said. “Journalists covering protests should be really careful. When I was in the crowd and the police threw the teargas, they wouldn’t think there were other people in the crowd such as journalists. You should be the one who thinks of your own safety.”

If she were in the situation of the journalists arrested in Ferguson, the support of fellow journalists and her employer would spur her on.

“I know I will not be alone in the aftermath of that incident and that wouldn’t stop me from doing my job.”



Has Trump’s rhetoric made these threats worse for journalists? Possibly. But, Marinovich says Trump isn’t the first U.S. president to have this effect.

“This normally gets ratcheted up, the media is the enemy,” Marinovich said. “Nixon did it, but in other countries at war, it very quickly turns from tolerating the media to attacking the media.”

Baraputri covered Trump’s inauguration, and after hearing him speak negatively about the media she was met with negativity from others as well.

“I talked to this group of people, trying to gauge their thoughts and who they were hoping to see there and I didn’t mention that I was a journalist,” she said. “Then I mentioned that in the middle of our conversation and they started to back away, ‘Oh so you’re media?’ with that kind of negative tone. And I said yes, the same way I would say yes to anyone before the inauguration.”

For Baraputri, and the majority of journalists who answered the following polls, this fear isn’t significant enough to hold them back.

“I’m more concerned that some of us journalists would hyper focus on that fear. Maybe you can see from my answers that I still do my job anyway, I will try my best anyway, I will cover the story anyway,” she said. “That’s my attitude towards the negativity from law enforcement or the negativity brought out by the president. Do your best anyway.”

And if she is ever stopped from entering/covering an event, “that is the news.”



Vox has the power, they just need to use it


Before this assignment, I wasn’t a frequent Vox reader but I was always intrigued by their videos and headlines. Now, I’ve followed the site for a semester and analyzed its simple yet impactful mission: Explain the news. Vox was made for with all of us in mind. Here are some of the biggest aspects I’ve noticed about Vox.

1. Explainers

Vox is definitely winning in the explainer category. Whether it be an informative video or think piece, Vox prides itself on making big news digestible for everyone. Vox’s explainer section is full of the biggest news with the most context and background. If you ever find yourself confused about the history of Trump and Kanye’s relationship, climate change, or how 4/20 became a day about marijuana, Vox is here to help. My favorite example came from early this year, when republicans in congress passed a sweeping tax bill – without a single vote from democrats. And how did Vox explain the confusing bill? With a video about cereal.

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2. Platforms

Vox aims to be “wherever you live on the internet”. You can find Vox on iTunes, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and basically any app you have. And I think Vox also does a good job of being present on most of these platforms. They constantly update their Instagram stories and continue to introduce new podcasts to its line-up (they announced the release of their new podcast Today, Explained just a few months ago). On Facebook, Vox makes quote cards to accompany its stories (and these cards are specifically made for Facebook as they aren’t featured in the article). I think this is a good way for Vox to connect with its audience visually. Even with its emphasis on explainer articles, Vox still finds the time to produce documentary series on its YouTube channel that follow foreign policy, music and more.







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3. Visuals

Vox’s graphic design team has talent, but we only get to see it every so often. Their story about the Ayahuasca retreat, which I previously made a post about, is the only story I’ve seen that has such detailed illustrations. Many Vox stories just feature a stock image right under the headline, a style that most news websites stick to. But Vox definitely can branch outside of this box. With the creative videos, data graphics, and the few illustrations I’ve seen, Vox could add these elements into more of their stories. Like this one:

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4. Ambitious Stories

Vox covers the big stories, even the ones that may be harder to cover. They’ve taken up the task of keeping record of every high ranking person accused of sexual assault, what industry they’re in, what day they were accused, who accused them, etc. This is the very first story I wrote about when I began tracking Vox and it’s great to come back to the story and see that Vox is still tracking this because it’s very important work. But it is sad to see how quickly this list has grown.

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5. What’s Next

While it seems that Vox is always one step ahead already I think they could definitely do more interactive stories like the one above. Since their motto is to “Explain the news” a lot of their stories have a lot of context, which is needed, but the amount of words can get overwhelming. I’m not asking Vox to create an interactive/multimedia element for every single story, that sounds exhausting, but I definitely think some of their written Explainer articles need more than a stock image at the top. They could break up some of the text with more images, more social media reaction, and maybe even take a poll of their followers and post the result in the story

Dense data is no match for Vox

Did you know that Black Americans don’t sleep as well as White Americans? Vox covered the interesting findings in this video. For a story like this, Vox could’ve just included graphs and data in the story, but they went a step further and made an interesting video that made the data stand out even more than it would have if they had just used images of the graphs or statistics.



In this section of the video, Vox presents the data on the recommended amount of sleep per age group. They include pictures and the visual of someone circling the recommended sleep cycles each time the voice over of the video moves on to talking about the next age group. This is more effective and engaging because you can see how Vox is emphasizing the data and not merely presenting it.

So what does good sleep look like? Vox has more cool visuals for those facts too:



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Vox also has visuals for their statistics on bad sleep:



They cite their sources by including full paragraphs from other articles and studies that explain the concept, as well as sound bites from experts. This sounds like it would look unappealing but Vox overlays it over a bright blue inviting background.



This next section of the video really stood out to me. Here they compared two data sets from two completely different sources: hours of sleep (Source: CDC) and median household income (Source: ESRI: Wealth Divides). They also have a visual of lines being drawn around the different wards that show where each ward is and they also specify the median income made in each ward.



They don’t end the video before giving solutions on how to sleep better, with visuals for each suggestion.

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When people think of data stories, they assume it might be boring. But Vox’s visuals make the data stand out in a way that makes you want to read. They use color, cool background images, and different fonts to point readers to crucial parts of the data and what they imply for our lives.


Amnesty International BU Hosts Human Rights Discussion

This Saturday afternoon, BU’s chapter of Amnesty International held a panel discussion on human rights and immigration law under the Trump administration. The panelists, Hiam Altali the Founder of Justice for Detainees in Syria, Tahirah Dean, an immigration law attorney, Yoana Kuzmova, a BU immigration law Professor, Timothy Longman, Director of the Institute of Culture, Religion and World Affairs, Elena Noureddine, an immigration attorney, and Terry Rockefeller, the Amnesty International Board of Directors documentary film producer, all agreed that the US should be doing more in its efforts to aid countries in crisis.

They also discussed the inhumane ways the US treats immigrants and the power that ICE officers have over detainees. The panelists came to the consensus that it doesn’t seem like Human Rights is even on Trump’s radar and that he may be doing just the opposite of fighting for people’s rights.

For full coverage of the event check out my Twitter moment.

How do you think the Trump administration compares to past administrations in terms of their role in aiding refugees?

Vox Breaks

…sometimes! In my time following Vox, the stories I’ve seen them publish give a lot of context. Remember their mission? It’s simple: explain the news. They don’t just write the latest news, they gather context and information about as many aspects related to the topic as possible. When you read their stories you know they’ve taken some time to do their research. However, short and fast breaking news is not something I’ve seen from them as often.

But today, as if God planted this news just because he knew I had this breaking news assignment, Vox posted a breaking news story about Donald Trump’s lawyer preemptively offering to pardon two former members of his administration who are under investigation: Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.

And Vox identified this story as breaking news not just by typing “BREAKING” in the body of the post, but they added a cool breaking news button to the post widget. It even lists how many minutes it’s been since the story was last updated.

I haven’t seen many breaking news stories by Vox before. I waited a few hours before going back into the story and it looks like the actual story hasn’t been updated in two hours. Maybe no more information has been revealed but I hope Vox definitely follows up and updates the story.

I love that Vox focuses on gathering context and research for their stories but they could definitely step up their breaking news game and then add context to the stories later!

No need to fear, the corporations are here

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Gays Against Guns members demand Wyndham, FedEx, and Hertz cut ties with the NRA at the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan in 2016. LightRocket/Getty Images

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that claimed 17 lives on Valentine’s Day, Americans are done with taking no for an answer. Hashtags like #NeverAgain and #BoycottNRA quickly trended as hundreds of thousands of people called for congress to create substantial gun control legislation and no longer cater to the interests of the National Rifle Association of America.

Vox wrote a story about citizens have begun turning away from congress and turning toward businesses and corporations with their activism, and it seems to be working.

The public demanded that Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart stop selling firearms and for Wyndham, FedEx, and Hertz to cut ties with the NRA. The protesters are realizing their buying power as consumers.

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Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would stop selling firearms to anyone under the age of 21 after the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Scott Olson/Getty Images

I really like this story because it discusses the issue from a different angle. Many stories have been posted about how Americans want congress to act, but this is the first story I’ve seen about the other avenues protestors have started to target.

The story is easy to follow with its subheadings and it delves into interesting areas of discussion (i.e. some history of how companies used to be afraid to weigh in on most political things, statistics about Americans’ faith in institutions and corporations, etc.) The writer goes beyond just a simple explanation of all the brands who have changed their policies in response to public outcry, but also explains the history of companies doing this and whether Trump’s presidency has caused an increase in this.

At the end of the day, the mission of a business is to make money so how far will they go with their actions? And will their participation influence congress to act?

Visuals should take you with them

I had never heard of the drug ayahuasca until this week. I knew nothing about its origins or why people take it. But after reading Vox writer Sean Illing’s first person essay about the drug’s impact on him during a retreat in Costa Rica I understand more of what it’s like to be in his shoes. After seeing the illustrations that accompanied his story, I could almost feel what it was like to be in his shoes.

The psychedelic drug was originally concocted in Colombia and Peru and is used for its psychological healing powers. It turned Illing’s life upside down and he wanted it to, it’s the entire reason he went on the retreat.

“…dissolving the wall between my self and the world. I also stared into what I can only describe as the world’s most honest mirror.”

“Ayahuasca exposes the gap between who you think you are and who you actually are. In my case, the gap was immense, and the pain of seeing it for the first time was practically unbearable.”



This story drew me in through its use of graphic design to create still and moving illustrations of the writer. (Special shoutout to the photographer Kainaz Amaria and illustrator Javier Zarracina)

  • Illustrative: These photos don’t just accompany the story, they also tell the story. Because Illing is telling his narrative and helping create the pictures that accompany it, you can be certain that these images are the best way to visually represent what taking the drug Ayahuasca did to his psyche. He does an incredible job of expressing how he felt with words but the images bring the issue close to home (in fact right in front of your face). The above gif of Illing looking down while clouds of darkness and light fill his head precedes the section of the story about his first night at the Rythmia retreat. The images help readers see how Illing reacted to the drug, at first contemplating who he wanted to be and how the drug would help him realize it, and then his brain getting clouded with quickly changing thoughts.

“About 30 minutes pass, and I start to feel … strange. I can see colors, shapes, and shifting shadows on the wall. I’m nervous that something is about to happen, so I go outside and gather myself. I settle in one of the hammocks and stare at the stars.

Suddenly the stars start to spin in a clockwise direction. Then a little faster. Then, for reasons that escape me, I start yelling at the moon, saying over and over again, “Is there anyone up there? Is each other all we have?” (Don’t ask me why I did this.)

So it goes, for what feels like an hour or two. I keep hurling those two questions at the heavens but get no answers, no insights, just silence and spinning.”

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  • Story enhancement: The Rythmia retreat Illing went to sounds like one of those “you just had to be there” stories. Like a very strange out of this world experience but the photos help enhance the strangeness. This blurred photo of him with snakes coming out of his mouth precedes the section titled “Night 2: Don’t Fight the Medicine.” It conveys the strange experience he had on the second night of the retreat, when everyone was purging all the negativity out of their systems, when he hallucinated another participant throwing up snakes into his mouth. Reading that line was one thing but seeing this image, along with the yearning in Illing’s eyes, shows just how confused he was about who he had become. Illing recounts that while he can’t explain most of what he saw that night it was the most authentic experience of his life, and through this illustration we get a glimpse into that experience.

All of a sudden, Andrea has 40 or 50 yellow snakes gushing out of her mouth and into mine. And then I’m immediately racked with the worst nausea I’ve ever experienced. First I curl up in the fetal position and then I spring onto all fours and try to puke. But I can’t get it out. I stay on my knees for another five or 10 minutes waiting for something to happen. Nothing.

Then I lie back down, roll onto my left shoulder, and am flooded with a resounding message for the rest of the night: It’s not about you! Andrea’s pain and suffering — the snakes — had passed into me, and that was the whole point.

For the rest of the night, maybe another three hours or so, I lie there thinking about how selfish I often am, and about the symbolism of the snakes. The feeling was so powerful that I started to cry. (Side note: People cry a lot on ayahuasca.)

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  • This image appears above the “Night 3: making love to my wife for the first time — again” section. In the third ceremony of the retreat Illing finally experiences what he’s been waiting for: a confrontation of his past. On his third trip with the drug he sees his and his wife’s relationship and hyper analyzes every moment that he could’ve been better to her. The jumbled up image of him facing several different directions above a labyrinth conveys his yearning to go back and pick different paths.

I start to see every moment of our relationship in which she reached out to me and I missed it. I see her asking me to go to a meditation class, and I decline. I see her pause to ask me to connect at the peak of a mountain after a long hike in Boulder, Colorado, and I shrug it off. I see her ask me to go dancing at a show near our apartment, and I watch myself mindlessly decline.

I see myself stuck in my own head, my own thoughts, my own impulses. And I see the disappointment on her face. I see her see me miss an opportunity to reconnect.

Then I relive all those moments again, and this time I see myself do or say what I should have done or said. And I see the joy on her face. I see it so clearly that it hurts. I see how much time I wasted, how much love I withheld.

I’m crying again, this time even louder, and the smile on my face is so big that my jaw hurt the next day. And I think about how I’m going to look at my wife when I get back home, and how she’ll know I’m seeing her — really seeing her — for the first time all over again.

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Night 4: the most honest mirror you’ll ever see

I cared too much about what other people thought.

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This story doesn’t include any actual photographs from the retreat, but instead photos that have been modified by illustrations. I would argue these illustrations would help the reader connect more to the subject than actual photographs would, especially since Illing probably partnered with the illustrator and explained all of his feelings after the retreat.

This story, on the other hand, about Trump voters who actually believe in universal healthcare could’ve benefitted from portraits of each of the voters who were interviewed.

The writer essentially had a round table discussion with a handful of voters, and names each of them in the piece, but photos of each person would’ve been more impactful. It would help us understand that yes these people are real and this what they think.

Vox’s written explainer stories don’t often have a lot of visuals, occasionally there are charts and graphs. But their video section is informative and visually pleasing. They make explainer videos about everything you may want to: how to understand a new tax bill, as represented by cereal, where babies in movies come from and why there are more concussions in women’s ice hockey than in football. The videos are edited to be engaging with their graphics. Vox should definitely try to bring more of those elements to their written stories.

The Week Explained on Instagram: