November 3 2017

First Hearing on Medical Marijuana Dispensary Sees Opposition, Raises Questions

By: Rich Hosford

A medical marijuana group was before the Planning Board on Thursday night for a proposed project on Blanchard Road that brought a lot of resistance from possible future abutters.

According to paperwork filed with the Planning Department, Mission Massachusetts, Inc., is looking to build the dispensary at 64 Blanchard Road. The site, zoned General Industrial, is currently the location of two mobile homes. If the project is approved the units will be torn down and a 4,336 gross square foot, two-story medical marijuana dispensary will be built.

Those behind the project said the site was chosen to be in compliance with a zoning bylaw passed by Town Meeting in 2014 that limited where dispensaries could be set up. The law stated they could not be opened near schools, parks, churches and other “vulnerable” locations.

On Thursday evening the group gave a presentation on the project before hearing from local residents who raised a number of concerns about it. Early on in the proceedings the Planning Board members made it clear that this was just the beginning of a long process and no vote would be taken on the site plan or any of the special permits that night.

To start things off attorney Robert Buckley of Riemer & Braunstein, who was representing the group, stressed that this facility was meant solely for medical marijuana.

This is medical marijuana, not recreational marijuana, the town has spoken loud and clear on recreational,” he said, referring to two bylaws recently passed by Town Meeting

Mission Massachusetts board member Kris Krane gave the board an overview of the process of someone purchasing medical marijuana and the safety mechanism that will be employed if the project is built.

Krane said a patient must first get a recommendation from a doctor that then allows them to fill out a form with the state’s Department of Public Health. This card would then allow them to get into the dispensary by showing it to a security camera and getting buzzed into the waiting room.

Nobody is allowed inside without that card and the only people qualified are the patients or a designated caregiver with their own card,” he said.

Krane said the next step in the process is a further identification check against a state website that tell them if the patient is in good standing before that person is allowed onto the dispensary room floor. They then go through an evaluation with a staff member about what type of marijuana product would, theoretically, work best for them.

Other points Krane brought up is that patients are allowed to purchase 2.5 ounces every two weeks and that is verified through a state website. He also said that no consumption is allowed on the property and that there will be 24/7 surveillance to help ensure that rule is followed.

One member of the Planning Board asked about inventory control. Krane said all the marijuana for the dispensary will be grown in Worcester and transported to its dispensaries in sealed bags that won’t be opened until the customer is out of the dispensary. The state also monitors every sale and will ensure that every product brought to the dispensary is either sold or destroyed when it expires.

In response to another question Krane said that all employees must undergo a background check administered by the Department of Public Health.

After members of the Planning Board asked a few question the floor was opened to input from the public. The room was packed to standing room only and all but one person identified themselves as being in opposition to the project.

A number of residents, most who live in the area on or around Blanchard Road, said they were afraid of what impact the dispensary would have on their neighborhoods. They raised a number of concerns, including the message the dispensary sends to children about the acceptability of drug use, the potential for dispensary customers selling their medical marijuana to others for recreational use and an increase in traffic.

There were also people who were afraid that the dispensary would be a target for thieves and that activity might spill over into the surrounding neighborhoods. This concern was raised in the lead-up to the ban of recreational marijuana due to the substance still being illegal at the federal level, meaning no banks will work with the companies and therefore it is a cash-only operation.

Krane said his past experience with medical marijuana dispensaries and studies he done shows that they do not bring an increase in crime and can actually bring it down.

Further, residents from the area neighborhoods asked why Blanchard Road was chosen instead of an area with more retail.

Krane said the reason they chose the site was that because all other options were blocked either by being close to the “vulnerable location” in the 2014 bylaw or landlords not interested in having a medical marijuana dispensary on their properties.

Residents then asked members of the Planning Board if they could stop the project considering so many potential future abutters were against it. Members said they were limited by the state law. It is unlawful for a municipality to ban medical marijuana or to create a bylaw that is so restrictive it essentially works as a ban. If it did that it would be likely that the state Attorney General’s office would deem it overreaching and strike it down, possibly opening up the town to lose what controls it might otherwise have.  

“The state law tells us what we can or can’t do,” Chairman Jack Kelley said. “Whether there are five or 5,000 of you here there are other factors we have to consider.”

 

Member Barbara L’Heureux assured the concerned residents that the town will take as many of their concerns into consideration even while it works within the laws of the state.

 

“This is the first meeting so we wanted to give everyone a chance to share their feelings,” She said. “This is just the start and we have a lot of time to address your concerns. However, if we deny on a non-legally binding concern the business could sue and we will lose and then we will lose any conditions we put on it.”

 

Still, members did say there are a lot of questions they want answered in upcoming meetings. One of them was whether a model airplane flight school in the area that has family gatherings qualifies as a vulnerable location under the 2014 bylaw.

 

L’Heureux also tried to pin the group down on a part of the new Massachusetts law that states medical marijuana dispensaries will eventually be able to sell recreational marijuana. She said that to the best of their understanding that would not be allowed due to the town’s bylaws banning recreational marijuana but that since there is a lot of uncertainty at the state level over these rules she wants a firm commitment from Mission Massachusetts that it will not try and make that switch unless the town first changes its own rules.

 

“Will they sign an agreement stating they will not switch to recreational marijuana?” she asked. “Because they refused that a couple of years ago when they were here.”

 

Buckley said that is his advice to his client and that he will speaker further with them about the subject.

 

“That is something I will be looking for,” L’Heureux said.

 

In the end the board voted to continue to the matter to its next meeting on Thursday, November 16.


 

 
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