Medical Marijuana Dispensary Gets OK by Planning Board, Last Step ZBA

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The proposed medical marijuana facility in East Watertown got the Planning Board’s approval and now has just one more hurdle before final approval.

Wednesday night the Planning Board approved the special permit request from Natural Selections to open a dispensary at 23 Elm Street, and the board gave the dispensary one more day of operation than recommended in the Community Development and Planning’s staff report.

The staff report recommended that the dispensary be allowed to be open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Chief Operating Officer of Natural Selections, Aidan O’Donovan, asked that the days of operations be extended to Sundays.

Not everybody like the idea of having the dispensary open seven days a week. Town Councilor Lisa Feltner said that while the area is zoned industrial it has many other types of properties.

“I hope it is not open 8 to 8. Yes it is an industrial zone but it is close to homes and a daycare,” Feltner said. “It will greatly increase traffic, and there is not a traffic light at Elm and Arsenal streets.”

Resident Michelle Cokonougher said that she would rather not have a dispensary but if there was one it should be limited to six days a week.

“(The applicants) said that pharmacies are open seven days a week, but those medications can be life or death types of situations,” Cokonougher said. “That is not the case here.”

Beth Dost, a registered nurse and chief clinical officer with Ardent Cannabis, said that people who need medical marijuana may need it any day.

“The patients are sick seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for some,” Dost said.

Peter Bleiberg, a Watertown resident who has a medical marijuana prescription for his Parkinson’s Disease, said he may need to visit a dispensary multiple times in a short time.

“Parkinson’s is complicated. There is no cure,” Bleiberg said. “I try different strains (of marijuana) for different symptoms I have.”

Before the vote, O’Donovan said that Natural Selections had always requested to be open seven days a week, and that the Town Council did not oppose this when they approved the Letter of Non-Opposition. After the meeting, Feltner said that the Council did not discuss the hours because councilors were told that that was a matter for the Planning and Zoning boards to decide.

Peter Centola, who spoke as a town resident, said he opposes the dispensary coming to Watertown and he fears that Watertown may have a problem with marijuana in a few years like it does now with heroin and opioids.

Resident Gale Boyd, who lives near the dispensary on Arlington Street, said she believes the Elm Street location is the wrong one for such a business.

“I don’t think you can find a more congested location,” Boyd said.

The traffic study done for Natural Selections found that the number of cars would not be more than when the location was last occupied by PixMix. The Community Development and Planning Department Staff Report found that number of cars coming to and from the site would not be a significant change from the current use or from when PixMix was there.

Boyd said she has heard that before.

“We were told that about every business that went into the building but it has been a nightmare,” Boyd said. “I live with the traffic everyday.”

The Planning Board supported the idea of a medical marijuana facility at the Elm Street site. Member Janet Buck said she spoke in favor of it at the Town Council meeting and still supported it. Gary Shaw said that he thought the center should be open as many days as the operators are willing to open the dispensary so patients will have maximum access.

Planning Board member Jeffrey Brown said he worried about people finding the dispensary since it is in a building behind the A-Auto Insurance building.

The Planning Board voted 4-0 (one seat is vacant) to approve the special permit. The proponents of the medical marijuana facility now go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for final approval. The next ZBA meeting is on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m.

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