Medical Marijuana Dispensary Moves a Step Closer to Approval

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A proposed medical marijuana dispensary in the East End of Watertown cleared one hurdle Tuesday night and now moves on to the Town Council for consideration.

The dispensary proposed by NS AJO Inc., also called Natural Selections, would be at 23 Elm Street in a building behind A-Affordable Auto Insurance. On Tuesday, the Council’s Economic Development and Planning subcommittee voted to send the application to the full Town Council to be considered for a letter of support or non-opposition. The application would still need the approval of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

The applicant agreed to a host agreement with the Town to pay $200,000 or 6 percent of their gross revenue, whichever is higher, annually.

Some residents worried about having a dispensary in town, especially if the dispensary sells marijuana for recreational use.

Peter Centola, who spoke as a resident rather than as Recreation Director, said he does not believe the dispensary should be in Watertown.

“As a resident I am strongly opposed to any type of marijuana facility in Watertown,” Centola said. “I am sympathetic to the needs of people who need therapeutic marijuana, but not here. We have been educating the resident to the dangers of drug use, and it sends the wrong message to approve one in Watertown.”

Peter Bleiberg, a Coolidge Avenue resident, said he uses medical marijuana to help him with his Parkinson’s Disease. He goes to the nearest dispensary in Brookline, but it can be difficult because it is a congested area and parking can be hard to find.

He and his wife Sallye visited dispensaries in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

“There is no loitering and no ‘druggies’ hanging around,” Sallye said.

East End Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she does not think this is the right spot for a dispensary because there are homes less than 500 feet from the proposed location. She noted that other dispensaries are in industrial parks or areas not close to homes.

“The people of the East End are not second class citizens,” Kounelis said.

Peter Airasian, who is part of the Watertown Taskforce seeking to stop opioid addiction in town, asked why a facility has to open in Watertown.

Councilor Susan Falkoff, chair of the Economic Development and Planning subcommittee, said that state law limits what the town can and can’t do with a medical marijuana dispensary.

“A city or town cannot ban a medical marijuana dispensary, but it can zone it,” Falkoff said.

Watertown has limited areas where a dispensary can go to industrial zones, and they must be more than 500 feet of any place where children congregate, such as a school, daycare or park. Applicants must get a Letter of Support or Non-Opposition from the Town Council and a special permit from the Zoning Board.

Natural Selections Chief Operating Officer Aidan Donovan has run a dispensary in Northglenn, Colo., that started sells both to medical marijuana patients and recreational customers. He said his group has agreed to not seek to sell marijuana without returning to the Town to get another special permit to sell recreational marijuana.

Airasian also worried that, like in Watertown, it will be easy to get a medical marijuana prescription.

Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said that getting a Medical Marijuana ID can be difficult and sometimes patients must wait 6 months to get their card. She noted that Massachusetts only has nine dispensaries but 40,000 patients, so the lines can be long.

The subcommittee voted 3-0 to send the application to the full Town Council to consider it for a Letter of Support or Non-Opposition. That must be obtained for the State to give a license to the applicant to sell medical marijuana at the dispensary. A date has not been set for when the application will be considered.

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