Two groups looking to set up medical marijuana dispensaries in Watertown made their cases Tuesday night, and one took a step toward being approved.
Both groups have experience running marijuana dispensaries, and they appeared before the Economic Development and Planning subcommittee in an effort to get a Letter of Support or Non-Opposition from the Town Council. This letter is needed to get approval from the state to open a medical marijuana facility.
NS AJO Holdings Group seeks to open a dispensary at 23 Elm Street. Chief Operating Officer Aidan O’Donovan is from Newton, but now lives in Colorado where he opened a dispensary in Northglenn, Colo.
The other applicant is Alternative Therapies Group. Executive Director Chris Edwards said the group opened the first medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts up in Salem, and now seeks to open two more facilities, including one in Watertown at 36 Arlington St.
Differences in Applications
With the passage of the recreational marijuana ballot measure in November, the new law allows operators of medical marijuana facilities to also sell it for recreational use.
At medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts, people must have a doctor’s prescription and a state medical marijuana ID to get in. The first time people visit either facility, they will got through a consultation to get recommendations for what type of cannabis they should use for their ailment. Common uses are for chronic pain, to encourage appetites for cancer patients who are undergoing Chemo therapy, people having trouble sleeping and anxiety.
Watertown officials have requested that applicants for medical marijuana dispensaries agree not to seek to sell it for recreational purposes. They could, however, come back to the town to seek a special permit to sell recreational marijuana.
O’Donovan said that his group might come back seeking to get permission to sell recreational marijuana, but agreed if the group did so it would come back for a permit.
Edwards, however, said that he could not agree to that.
“I was one of the few people (in the medical marijuana industry) who spoke against the recreation marijuana industry,” Edwards said. “However now that it passed we are forced to confront reality. If other facilities are allowed to sell recreational, we would face a disadvantage and very quickly put us out of business.”
Another way the two applications differ is that Natural Selections agreed to negotiate a host community agreement, where among other things it would give the town $200,000 a year or 6 percent of the gross revenue, which ever is higher. O’Donovan said other money would be set aside to cover other unforeseen costs to the town, but if it was not used for that it would be given to local charities.
Alternative Therapies Group had originally said it would make a similar host agreement, but Edwards said that other communities – including Cambridge – do not make those agreements so they decided not to propose one.
“We feel that trust is earned, not bought,” Edwards said. “If we open in a community next to one that does not have host agreements, we would be at a significant competitive disadvantage.”
Councilor Tony Palomba said the dispensaries are non-profits, and he feels uneasy asking a non-profit to pay the town in order to get permission to open in Watertown.
Residents at the meeting said they worried that both proposed dispensaries sit in residential areas, despite being in an industrial zone. East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she has heard from residents who say they will move if the dispensaries are approved.
“This is not about medical marijuana, it is about siting,” Kounelis said. “If there were no issues we could have it in a (Two-Family) zone, build a kiosk at Victory Field or put one across from Town Hall.”
Edwards said he heard similar concerns from people near the dispensary in Salem and near their growing facility in Amesbury.
“We met with community groups, talked it out with them and worked it out,” Edwards said.
O’Donovan said the location where he seeks to open Natural Selections is an ideal one.
“It is behind A-Affordable Auto Insurance so it is not highly visible,” O’Donovan said.
The dispensary would have 20 parking spaces and would be called Natural Selections. The group wants a sign visible from Elm Street, but O’Donovan said it would be a simple one.
“There will be no weed leafs, no green crosses, no neon,” O’Donovan said. “It would simply say Natural Selections.”
Edwards said he would lease 11,000 sq. ft of space in the building that is also home to GymIt, but only 5,000 sq. ft. would be for the dispensary.
Residents also brought up concerns about people using marijuana in or around the dispensaries, and children and teens seeking to get in, or people loitering.
Both applicants said they plan to have security guards who will stop people who are not supposed to be at the dispensary from hanging around or getting into the facility. Also, the state does not allow consumption of marijuana on the site of a dispensary.
Natural Selections would have a waiting room where people can wait before or after purchasing their marijuana, so that they won’t be standing around outside the building.
O’Donovan also introduced the head of the firm he hired to run security for the dispensary. Daniel Linskey is a former Boston Police officer and helped coordinate officers during the search for the Boston Marathon Bomber in Watertown.
He said he planned to have 24-hour armed security at the dispensary, and they would have security cameras with feeds that could be accessed by the Watertown Police Department.
Councilor Susan Falkoff, chairwoman of the Economic Development and Planning subcommittee, said she was comfortable with one applicant, but not the other. She said to Edwards of Alternative Therapies Group: “You say trust is earned. You have not earned my trust.”
She said the Alternative Therapies Group application lacked many details, including a parking plan and details about security. What concerned her most, however, was that the group wanted to be able to sell recreational marijuana without coming back to the town.
Falkoff said Natural Solutions had earned her trust.
Councilor Ken Woodland said that in recent years Watertown has put in more onerous requirements for zoning, and he would not want to ease requirements for one group. As for the host agreements, he noted that there are differences between towns, for example Cambridge has unlimited liquor licenses while Watertown has a set number.
The subcommittee voted 3-0 to have the Community Development and Planning Department work with Natural Solutions to negotiate a host agreement and bring it back to the subcommittee for for further discussion.
The subcommittee also voted 3-0 to request that Alternative Therapies Group comeback with more information and answers to the committee’s concerns before they would be willing to send the application to the full Council.
The Economic Development and Planning subcommittee will meet again on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. to discuss the two applications.
If they find one or both applications acceptable, the subcommittee will send the applications to the full Town Council to be considered for a Letter of Support or Non-Opposition. If they get that, the groups can then apply to the Planning Board for a special permit to open in their respective locations.