Opponents, Supporters of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary Have Their Say

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The group proposing opening a medical marijuana dispensary in East Watertown heard from detractors and supporters during a community meeting held at Town Hall Monday night. 

Natural Selections has proposed opening a facility serving people with medical marijuana prescriptions in a building behind the A-Affordable Auto Insurance Building, across Elm Street from the Watertown Mall parking lot.

Aidan O’Donovan, Chief Operating Officer for Natural Selections, said he expects to have around 200 customers a day, and – if approved – hopes to be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The group has secured 22 parking spaces.

The most vocal opposition for the dispensary came from residents living near the proposed site who said that East Watertown, in particular their area near Elm and Arlington streets, has endured too much already.

“East Watertown has rights,” said Eric Boyd, who would live less than 500 feet from the dispensary. “East Watertown has been a dumping ground for everything because it is in an industrial zone.”

Gale Boyd, Eric’s wife, said they has lived there for years and have endured liquor stores where people would drink outside and pee on the side of the building, auto mechanics where cars are fixed on the street and other businesses that have caused problems.

“Some people say, if you don’t like it, you can move,” Gale said. “That is not the attitude we like. We want people to work with us.”

She added that people need to ask themselves whether they want a business selling marijuana in town.

“There are real concerns with this. I am disappointed this is being considered in Watertown,” Gale said.

O’Donovan promised to work with neighbors. He added that Massachusetts has strict rules with medical marijuana licenses.

“If a liquor store has people peeing on the wall, they may get a fine,” O’Donovan said. “Anything we do wrong, we will lose our license.”

He added that no consumption of marijuana will be allowed in or around the facility.

The facility will have tight security provided by Kroll Security. The head of security is Dan Linskey, a former Police Chief with the Boston Police Department. The dispensary will have cameras inside and out and security guards on site 24 hours a day. He plans to hire retired police officers and former military personnel, and said they may or may not be armed.

“I will work with (Watertown Police) Chief (Michael) Lawn to determine whether he wants armed security,” Linskey said.

The security will also monitor the parking lot to make sure no one is using marijuana there, loitering or doing any other activity.

“If someone is not a good customer they will not be welcomed back,” Linskey said.

A couple of Watertown residents who have medical marijuana prescriptions talked about how much it has helped them, and how having a dispensary in Watertown would help them.

Cannabis has helped Michael Dongrey deal with epilepsy.

“It reduces the amount of pharmaceutical medication I take,” Dongrey said. “The side effects from pharmaceuticals have big downsides.”

Currently, Dongrey goes to dispensaries in Boston or Brookline so having a dispensary in Watertown would be very helpful because he cannot drive.

“Now I take a bus or Uber,” Dongrey said. “I could walk to this one.”

Kristen Sidiropoulos uses medical marijuana to deal with Crohn’s Disease.

“I was in so much pain. (The cannabis) helps with the pain,” Sidiropoulos said. “Other prescription medicines shuts down the immune system. I almost died from two (prescriptions).”

The applicants were asked about whether marijuana is a gateway drug. O’Donovan said he did not believe so, and added that in areas where medical marijuana has been approved, the rate of overdoses from opiates has decreased.

Linskey said that marijuana, as well as cigarettes and alcohol, can lead people with addictive personalities “down a path.”

Stephanie Sutherland-Ramsey, program coordinator with coordinator of the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network in Watertown, said her child goes to high school in Brookline and she has heard that marijuana from the dispensary there finds its way into the hands of high schoolers in Brookline.

Sutherland-Ramsey added that she has seen studies that found areas where marijuana has been legalized have increased the use among people, including youth, as well as, leading to an increase in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana.

O’Donovan said he has seen other studies where the number of OUIs has dropped, or the number of OUI for alcohol has dropped in these same areas. He said he would work with Sutherland-Ramsey and others working in stopping youth from using marijuana.

East End Councilor Angeline Kounelis said just because an application gets to the Town Council, does not mean it must be approved. She noted that any applicant needs a Letter of Support or Non-Opposition from the Town Council to get a license from the state. To deny it, the Council does not need to provide any further reason than they did not want to approve the letter, she said. After that, the applicants must get a special permit from the Zoning Board.

A second application for a medical marijuana facility has also been received by the town. The applicant will appear before the Council’s Economic Development and Planning subcommittee Thursday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall’s Lower Hearing Room.

Natural Selections’ application will likely be heard by the Town Council in March. Kounelis said she was the only one to vote against the zoning allowing a marijuana dispensary in industrial zones because most are located in East Watertown. She noted that the East End is different from other parts of town, and a former resident used to refer to the neighborhoods up on the hill as “the lace curtain” areas.

When the final vote is made, Kounelis said she hopes all councilors consider how the dispensary would impact the residents of the East End.

“I urge councilors to think about East Watertown, while they reside in the lace curtain areas of Watertown,” Kounelis said.

5 thoughts on “Opponents, Supporters of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary Have Their Say

  1. Thoughts:
    1) I have to wonder why these applicants are willing to pay the town some number of dollars per year to operate here. When a town thinks that a new businesses may locate their facility in their town and create job opportunities they usually offer incentives to make sure they locate in that town. I have to come to the conclusion that these applicants are trying to buy their way into Watertown.

    2) Why have these owners chosen Watertown to locate their Medical Marijuana businesses in Watertown? I know that one of these owners lives in Newton and I wonder why he did not try to open one in his home town which is right next to Watertown. Probably because the wealthier communities like Newton, Belmont and Lexington would never allow one and they know it, so they choose Watertown. I do not think Watertown residents should accept the burden of a dispensary.
    3) I need to ask if these non profits are opening these businesses for the good of the people or to make money. I know that non profits do not make a profit but I must wonder how much the salaries will be for the the top echelon on managers and owners. If they are taking large paychecks then it would be easy to determine if they are doing it for the good of the community or for their self enrichment. This is a question I would love someone to ask them.
    4) I do not blame the residents near these potential locations from not wanting a dispensary near their residences, I would not want one either.
    5) I assume that medical marijuana helps many people with the their illnesses and I do not have the solution of where to locate dispensary to serve these people but I would prefer that it not be in Watertown.

  2. I would add – have you ever BEEN to a marijuana dispensary? I’ve been to several – one in Portland, Maine, and several in Massachusetts, particularly Brookline. They are very clean, professional, well-lit and well-guarded, and much nicer than a lot of the businesses out there. They were well-maintained and run. Their standards seemed alot higher than those liquor stores, for example. They help people.

  3. Newton already has a dispensary, as does Brookline.

    It’s obvious to me that they’re paying the town because Watertown is awesome & a fantastic location (& many large businesses in all areas provide infrastructure to municipalities).

    I was at the meeting & was impressed by the openness of the Natural Selections specifically COO Aiden O’Donovan (from Newton) & Security Director former Boston Police Chief Dan Linskey (the guy literally announced his cell phone # & said call me 24/7/365 if you have a problem, question or concern which was very impressive in my opinion).

    I think that IF we’re going to have a dispensary, these guys are solid because:
    • Aiden O’Donovan already runs a dispensary in Colorado so he knows the business (but he’s also from Newton & not just coming here for the financial opportunity)
    • O’Donovan stated that their top priority is compliance (that the state will oversee), then sales because w/out compliance there will be no sales (tough guidelines mean that it’s easy for them to lose their license)
    • Former Boston Chief of Police Dan Linskey who now works for Kroll (a global security firm) is the head of security
    • They will install security cameras inside & out
    • Maintain security at the location 24/7 (armed or unarmed depending on what Chief Lawn wants & their stated preference is to staff those positions with retired police & ex-military)
    • They’re offering the greater of 6% or $200,000 to Watertown in their host agreement
    • They have an additional $100,000 contingency fund to deal with unexpected issues (including if Chief Lawn later decides that he wants a police detail at the dispensary)
    • They selected a discreet location not even really visible from the street
    • They must keep their clientele in line or risk losing their license from the state
    • They repeatedly stated a strong policy of refusing future sales to any client found to be using their product onsite/in the area/in public
    • They rented additional parking for a total of 22 spaces
    • They offer subsidized product to low income patients
    • Their production facility in Fitchburg has been approved (some dispensaries have had trouble stocking their shelves & without product they can’t serve patients)
    • They got a license, asked permission & shared their plan while other “freelance” cannabis “entrepreneurs” in Watertown work in the shadows

    Cannabis (the English name of the plant, marijuana is the Spanish name invoked by opponents in the early 1900s to make it sound less desirable to people unfamiliar with it) is not legal at the federal level which is why you can’t get it at a pharmacy or have it covered by health insurance but Massachusetts & more specifically Watertown voted overwhelmingly to approved Medical (2012) & recreational (2016).

    Some Medical cannabis is the same as recreational but other strains of the plant are very low in THC (active ingredient that gives off the “high” effect) & high in CBD (active ingredient showing tremendous results in stopping seizures & easing other symptoms for a range of ailments)

    At the meeting Angie asked about Marinol (a cannabis drug sold by big pharma) which is available at pharmacies; it is an extremely potent drug prescribed only for the most serious illnesses/pain (far more potent than needed for many illnesses cannabis is prescribed for) that doctors don’t want to prescribe because of the potency & stigma which makes it difficult to get because very few pharmacies carry it.

    MA rules allow businesses to have up to 3 dispensaries in MA which is how many they are pursuing/hoping to open.

    At the meeting they stated that their average sale is $75 & they expect to be open 7 days a week with 200-300 sales a day. 300x$75=$22,500 x365=$8,212,500 gross annual sales (minus cost of product, compliance, security, rent, salaries, licensing/legal, overhead etc & 6% to Watertown which would = $492,750 well above the minimum $200k but this shouldn’t be viewed as an income stream for the town despite the fact that it would be). It’s still a business & while it’s a non-profit I’m certain that they’ll be doing well for themselves.

    These guys run a business if you don’t like the direction the town is going in then we need to change that at the ballot box. If we’re going to have a dispensary, these guys seem like a safe bet which is the priority for me.

    If any dispensary is approved in Watertown, I think that the town should put a moratorium on additional dispensaries for at least a year if not 3 to evaluate the process, host agreement & community impact.

    I don’t know if I want a dispensary in Watertown but I think that as a community we should be making informed decisions based on facts & definitely stop being afraid of & vilifying a plant based on political motivations & racism from 100 years ago (Ainslinger) or even 45 years ago (Nixon).

    Learn about medical cannabis in CNN’s/Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary WEED (2013)

    Or his follow up WEED2: Cannabis Madness (2015)

    College Humor’s 6 min history lesson: Sinister Reason Weed is Illegal

  4. I have endured breast cancer. I was 48 when diagnosed. 6 months of chemo, 49 days of radiation and almost four years of cancer drugs to keep me alive. Just recently they started me on a low dose of chemo, which I have to take for the next six years. The doctors at DF explained the side effects and offered me pain killers. I’m NOT a pain killer (narcotics kinda person). The side effects of chemo are a life long thing and with this new dose I am in pain on a constant basis, yet I get up every day and go to work. By the time I get home I can hardly stand or walk. My son often helps me get up the stairs and into the house. I was approved for medical marijuana through Dana Farber four months ago. I am so thankful for medical marijuana. I only get the edibles with CDB for pain (no THC) I don’t want to get high I just want the pain relief. It’s amazing! I can actually walk and the over all nerve pain throughout my body is gone! Please consider that medical marijuana is so very different than recreational use. For a cancer patient it is important for their quality of life. I don’t want to stop working because of debilitating pain and if their weren’t med marijuana my only option would be opiates which would effect my cognitive functioning.

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