Zoning Board Discusses Medical Marijuana Facility, Delayed Final Vote

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The proposed medical marijuana facility went before the Zoning Board, the final approval required before it would be allowed to open in East Watertown, but the vote will have to wait until May.

Natural Selections has applied to open a facility in a building at 23 Elm Street, behind the one that is home to A-Affordable Auto Insurance.

The Zoning Board asked about the building it would go into and about how the dispensary would work.

Only patients who are registered with the state and have a Medical Marijuana ID, or registered  personal care givers will be able to go to the center to get cannabis, said attorney Stephanie Haughey.

Aidan O’Donovan, chief operating officer of Natural Selections, said that smoking or any other form of consumption of marijuana will not be permitted on site. The facility would sell marijuana flowers, oils for vaporizers, salves for rubbing on the skin, transdermal patches and edibles. He added they will not look like candy.

“In California they have edibles that look like Starbursts,” O’Donovan said. “That’s not us. We won’t do that. The (Department of Public Health) would pull our license.”

ZBA member John Gannon wondered what would happen if someone was caught using marijuana while driving away from the facility. He noted that the Massachusetts courts recently ruled that police cannot pull over someone just for smoking marijuana while driving.

Dan Linksey, who represents Kroll Experts – the firm providing security for the dispensary, said that the facility will be strict about people who violate the rules.

If one of our patients does something to impact the quality of life in Watertown they will no longer be our customer,” Linskey said.

Gannon added that he has some concerns about the location of the proposed dispensary.

Children congregate in Friendly’s and the malls across the street. The location is concerning to me,” Gannon said.

Dispensaries cannot be within 500 feet of places where children congregate, but under state law those are only certain places, such as schools, daycare centers, Boy’s & Girl’s Clubs, YMCAs and children’s dance schools, for example. There is a daycare center on Elm Street, but it is about 650 feet away. The recently opened dispensary in Newton is located a few doors down from Cabot’s restaurant, said ZBA Chairwoman Melissa Santucci Rozzi.

Natural Selections would like to have an ATM at the facility. Town officials have said it must be inside the dispensary, however right now the Department of Public Health – which regulates medical marijuana facilities – does not allow them inside.

Santucci Rozzi agreed with the Town’s assessment, and she said that she does not like the look of the one near the Newton dispensary because it is a stand alone ATM that is lit all the time.

The center would have 22 parking spots, but ZBA member David Ferris said it looks like one spot would block the entrance to the building. O’Donovan was asked why they have 22 spots, and he said during peak hours there may be 15-20 people at the facility at once and he wants to make sure no one is parking in the spots for other businesses.

Ferris also said the two-door system, where people get buzzed from the lobby to a small room and then wait to get let in through a second door to the sales area, is not handicap accessible because the doors are less than seven feet apart.

East End Councilor Angeline Kounelis stated her opposition to having a dispensary in Watertown, noting that marijuana is not legal under federal law, and she worries that such a facility would need 24 hour security.

She added that other towns are rejecting dispensaries. The Boston Globe reported that Marshfield will not approve any medical marijuana facilities until the state clarifies the laws in regard to the sale of recreational marijuana. Methuen took a similar stand, and rescinded Letters of Non-Opposition for three facilities. Other municipalities have voted to ban any recreational marijuana facilities from opening in their community, according to another Globe story.

Why in Watertown? Why in 4.1 square miles? There are nearby  facilities, one in Newton, one in Brookline, as well as in Salem,” Kounelis said.

Resident Dennis Duff said he too opposes the opening of a medical marijuana facility, and said he fears all facilities may soon be able to sell recreational marijuana.

“The Legislature can change the law with recreational marijuana, and that’s what I am afraid of,” Duff said.

Natural Selections has entered into an agreement with the Town not to pursue recreational sales, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon. There are caveats, however, Magoon said. They would be allowed to do so if other facilities in town are allowed to sell recreational marijuana. This could happen if the state law changes or if the Town approves recreational sale by another facility in Watertown.

The fears of marijuana facilities attracting crime and other problems have not materialized in Massachusetts, said Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patients Advocacy Alliance, which represents medical marijuana patients. She pointed to a Boston Globe report that said communities that have dispensaries and growing facilities, including Lowell, Salem and Amesbury.

Councilor Vincent Piccirilli, who supported the Letter of Non-Opposition in Watertown for Natural Selctions, said that the people who have spoken to him and at hearings reflect the support in town that the medical marijuana ballot question had.

“I would say 2-to-1 people were supporting of having a medical marijuana facilities in Watertown,” Piccirilli said, who added that he also heard that a majority of town residents oppose recreational marijuana sales in Watertown. 

He added that the Massachusetts Attorney General has said that communities cannot ban medical marijuana facilities, but can regulate them through zoning.

Councilor Lisa Feltner said she did not support the Letter of Non-Opposition, and she would like to see the hours reduced. Natural Selections requested hours of operation of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

“Look at their hours (of dispensaries in other towns). Almost all of them start at 10 a.m., end at 6 or 7 p.m. and are not open on Sundays,” Feltner said. “I would not like to see us jump in with seven says a week, 12 hours a day. It seems easier to extend hours later.”

O’Donovan was asked if he is seeking to open dispensaries in other towns. He said Natural Selections will seek to open three in total, the most the state allows to be owned by one operator. He said the group has a property under contract in Medford, but has not received approval. They recently were rejected in Lynn and they had considered taking legal action but have not done so. Watertown is the group’s top choice.

If given the choice of one would be this is the place we want to be,” said O’Donovan who grew up in Newton, but now lives in Colorado where he runs an dispensary that opened as a medical marijuana facility and now also sells it for recreational use.

The Zoning Board voted to continue the hearing for the medical marijuana facility to its meeting on May 24. She asked Natural Selections to come back with a more detailed site plan. Gannon asked for the ZBA to get all the documents that the Town Council received.

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