Medical Marijuana Facility Passes Last Hurdle with Approval by ZBA

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The Zoning Board voted unanimously to approve the medical marijuana dispensary in East Watertown on Wednesday night, giving the facility the final approval needed from the town to open. 

ZBA members had questions about the building and also the operations of the medical marijuana facility.

East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis told the board members that they should remember while it is in an industrial zone, there are many homes near the facility.

“Abutters of the site are vehemently opposed (to the dispensary),” Kounelis said. “They are not here. These residents are burnt out. They are no longer attending the meetings, they feel it is a done deal.”

The lack of people at the meeting to speak against having the dispensary was noted by ZBA members who said for other controversial projects – such as CVS in Coolidge Square and the hotel on Arsenal Street – there were many people there speaking out against the projects.

Kounelis said there are people opposed to the facility, and she said she took offense that her comments were being doubted. Members said they did not mean to offend her. ZBA member John Gannon said he asked at the last meeting in April for all the comments and materials given to the Town Council when it made its vote, but he did not receive the documents from the Town Planning staff.

Kounelis also noted that the ZBA was being asked to approve a facility that will only sell medical marijuana, but that could change. She noted that if state law is changed, the dispensary could sell marijuana for recreational use.

“Watertown is putting the welcome mat out. The floodgates have opened in Watertown,” Kounelis said. “It’s sad,”

Attorney Mike Ross who represents Natural Selections, said there are only three ways the facility would be able to sell recreational marijuana: first, if the state legislation is passed that requires medical marijuana dispensaries to offer sale for recreational uses; second, if the town passes regulations or a ballot measure authorizing recreational use; or, third, if a vendor unaffiliated with the Natural Selections is allowed to sell recreational in town.

ZBA member John Gannon said he worries that there are many children and teens who will be at the Watertown Mall, which would be near the dispensary. Ross said there is no way a child could get into the secure facility and get their hands on marijuana. Gannon said he is more concerned with the marijuana becoming more appealing to teens.

Natural Selections’ Chief Operating Officer Aidan O’Donovan said that teens generally get marijuana from adults through the black market, but medical marijuana facilities are cutting down the black market.

“(People in the black market) are not regulated and don’t have reputation and multimillion businesses on the line they are not risking losing their license, so if the have extra supply they are going to go down the local high school,” O’Donovan said.

The applicants for Natural Selections said they chose the site at 23 Elm Street building B, which is behind the one which houses A-Affordable Auto Insurance, because it is not highly visible.

ZBA member David Ferris said the location has both pros and cons.

“I have mixed emotions about the site. The remoteness or lack of visibility may be a positive thing, but from a security point of view it may be negative thing,” Ferris said. 

ZBA member Kelly Donato said she worried about the hours, and said she was “a little surprised” to see Sunday on the hours of operations.

The facility will have onsite security 24 hours a day, seven days a week including both security guards and electronic surveillance, Ross said.

The applicants asked to be able to operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week. O’Donovan said some people cannot make it during regular business hours.

“It is pretty important for us to be open seven days a week,” O’Donovan said. “There are plenty of people who don’t work 9-to-5s.”

Ferris suggested shortening hours on the weekend.

“Perhaps (it could be open to) 6 o’clock,” Ferris said. “Keep in mind there are people living close by.”

The board decided to shorten hours on Saturdays and Sunday to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Gannon also questioned whether the Community Host Agreement between the town and the applicants, which provides $200,000 or six percent of the revenues (whichever is higher), is being handled correctly. He does not believe the money should go into a revolving fund which the Town Manger does not approval to spend. The board agreed the matter should be sent to the Town’s attorney for an opinion.

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