BOS approves “non-opposition” to Medical Marijuana Dispensary but urges seeking new site

by beth on February 3, 2016

The Board of Selectmen had a fairly full house at last night’s meeting. And they got an earful from residents, most of whom were there to oppose the siting of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary at 255 Turnpike Road.

Selectmen agreed that the spot wasn’t the best choice. Still, they voted to issue a letter of non-opposition to the dispensary. The applicant, CommCan, will negotiate mitigating funds in lieu of taxes with the board.

Selectmen Paul Cimino deliberately kept an address out of his approval motion last night. Prior to the vote, the board solicited CommCan’s commitment to continue seeking a better site within the defined zone.

CEO Marc Rosenfeld confirmed that they had identified better options but were rejected by landlords reluctant to lease to a Medical Marijuana facility. Cimino said he would work with CommCan to try to urge landlords at more appropriate sites to reconsider.

Selectman Brian Shea cautioned that new sites may not be seen as better by everyone. He pointed out there are many residential streets close to Route 9 and the restricted zone. Calling their tax dollars just as green, he said their job was to look out for all residents, not just those on Clifford Street.

During public comment, Kevin Hoolahan of Clifford Street attempted to request the re-opening of the Town Warrant to revise the bylaw. Chair John Rooney told him it would have to wait until after the discussion.*

Seemingly aware of the draft article content, Rooney informed the public that a bylaw had been rejected at the 2013 Special Town Meeting. He said it happened after it became clear there was opposition to the 1,000 foot buffer. A bylaw with the 500 foot buffer was then approved at 2014 Annual Town meeting. [Editor’s Note: Technically, true – but not quite the real story. Scroll down to my notes at the bottom for more detail on what happened.**]

Before the vote or public comment, Selectmen listened to the applicant’s presentation and asked several questions. They also heard from Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus that he was comfortable with the applicant’s security plans.

Paulhus found that there was no crime reported around other dispensaries in the state. But he pointed out that the program is “in its infancy” with the first of four dispensaries having opened in July and the fourth opened very recently.

Later that night, the chief answered a question on officers’ ability to detect drivers under marijuana influence. While there is no breathalizer, officers have been trained in ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement. They also have a trained DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) who they can call out when needed.

Before a dispensary is opened residents will have chances to weigh in again in hearings for a permit (Zoning Board of Appeals) and site plan review (Planning Board). If the dispensary makes it all the way through the process, CommCan estimates opening doors in around 18-24 months.

Chair John Rooney warned CommCan to seriously look for another location: 

You may think you have won the war. You haven’t. You’ve won perhapsa battle. And the neighborhood in which you are going to be locating this facility, there’s going to be multiple, multiple eyes on you.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said that in a private meeting with the applicant last week, she advised them that neighbors would be vocal and she didn’t believe it was an appropriate site. She suggested another site she believed was better, though admitting her neighbors wouldn’t like it. [Note: She seemed to be describing Middle Road off of Route 9 East.]

During public comment, the majority of a dozen speakers asked Selectmen not to provide the letter. Houlihan presented a petition in opposition with more than 400 signatures opposing the siting of a dispensary in the school area.

Some speakers pointed to the proximity to Neary or Trottier school as the most upsetting factor. But at least one Clifford Street resident admitted she was more concerned by the idea of marijauna users being in her neighborhood.

Objections last night included the following claims/concerns:

  • Medical Marijuana ID cards are easy to obtain (not restricted to serious illnesses and don’t need to be from primary care physicians) and the product easily diverted
  • If recreational marijuana use is approved in November, the medical dispensaries will be first to get licenses – state might dictate we have to allow recreational marijuana to be sold from that site.
  • The extensive security regulations prove its a dangerous business – concerning to have that close to residences and schools
  • The location isn’t what people had in mind when they approved zoning
  • Undermines economic development image
  • Deerfoot and Flagg roads are among the few routes customers leaving could take to cut through town. Concerned about drivers using product in the parking lot then heading down the narrow, windy streets past Trottier School.
  • Evidence of increased crime in Denver near facilities. We should wait for more information on dispensaries in our state, not be a test case.
  • We shouldn’t add to drugs in our community

Last night’s commenters did include a few in support. The landlord for the site, William Picardi of Deerfoot Road, told the public that he supports medical marijuana. He explained that his wife spent almost every day with a close family friend dying from cancer. Medical Marijuana had been her friend’s only relief during her last year.

Desiree Aselbekian lauded the democratic process behind approving the zoning. She urged selectmen to honor it. She and Cimino rebutted commenters who claimed they were mislead as to what was included in the zone at the time of the vote. They both referred to maps that were “everywhere” that night.

They also argued against residents’ comments that they had been rushed to support the measure that night. The Planning Board article was written and re-worked over several months, incorporating public feedback.

*Hoolahan didn’t re-present his request for a revised bylaw later in the meeting.

**Editor’s Note: I do need to point out that the commenters did have some valid points about what really led to the 2014 Town Meeting vote.

The article that failed in October 2013 did include 1,000 feet of buffer zones from schools, playgrounds, etc. But that didn’t appear to be the reason it failed.

In earlier drafts, the Planning Board worked to restrict the zone to areas further from residences. But while most of the public was quiet on the issue, the Board of Health and Medical Marijuana advocates strongly opposed the zoning as too restrictive.

As a Planning Board member (at the time), Cimino responded to BOH objections and negotiated a plan supported by both boards. Those negotiations led to a last minute change stripping out a 1,000 foot buffer from residential zones.

There were some at the Special Town Meeting who voiced the zoning was too restrictive. And as Aselbekian mentioned last, she was among those that worried that Industrial Park zoning was too isolated to be safe for dispensary customers. But there were others who argued that the zone included areas too close to residences.

The main issue that night was an accusation that the last minute changes were a “bait and switch”. Voters said they deserved more time to look at the plans.

Between then and the 2014 Annual Town Meeting, the Planning Board continued to hold hearings and to negotiate changes with the Board of Health.

At the 2014 Town Meeting, some residents again voiced concern about the zone being too close to homes. (While some objected to allowing dispensaries anywhere in town.) But voters were warned that failing to pass any restrictions would mean that dispensaries could be sited anywhere. They were urged to cast a vote that night or risk a dispensary being built in a neighborhood.

1 n February 3, 2016 at 1:21 PM

I’m much more concerned about the possibility of this being a site for recreational use. Is there a way to limit sales for medical purposes?

It’s hard for me to believe that the Commonwealth would force the town to allow recreational sales if there are still dry towns that do not sell alcohol.

2 beth February 3, 2016 at 2:06 PM

The issue that was raised was a “what if”. It was based on the fact that the state did force Towns to allow zoning for Medical Marijuana.

3 n February 3, 2016 at 2:38 PM

Agreed. Was the warrant drafted such that it limited a retail space to ONLY distribute medical product and specifically exclude the sale of the same for recreational use?

I’d suspect the real commercial benefit will be from the sale for recreational use. And that applicants may be discouraged from opening in town if they knew they would be limited to that and not able to sell for recreational purposes IF voters approve in the fall.

That said, we drive to Framingham or Westboro for groceries. Would it be that much of a burden for those in need for medical purposes to drive to Framingham to purchase from the already approved facility?

4 Im in favor February 3, 2016 at 11:50 PM

As the proponent stated last night, the state Department of Public Health regulates the entire program and this is strictly a medical marijuana program. Has nothing to do with a recreational program.

The issue regarding zoning is a Supreme Judicial Court issue where the “state” has not “forced” towns to have med marijuana bylaws, but rather cities and towns cannot discriminate against uses that are outlined in zoning code, the most notorious being adult uses. Thus many towns tried to make zoning medical marijuana, like Westborough, a zoning district in which no business could ever possibly find appealing, but yet they did zone for it to comply with previous court cases and state law.

Southborough had a near year long extensive conversation about this entire point. The 1,000 foot buffer zone was clearly not what Town Meeting wanted. Town Meeting clearly did not want to exile patients into an unlit industrial zone. I firmly believe the very public conversations as what I believe Southborough to be: educated, compassionate and thoughtful.

The Planning Board went back to the drawing board, expanded the district, held numerous hearings and made numerous public presentations. The quality of work that Paul Cimino and the PB did on this bylaw over the course of two years and the presentation he gave at Town Meeting was one of the main reasons I had faith in him running for Selectmen. He did a very thorough job.

I think folks who complain about Town Meeting’s decision now either were not present when the vote was taken or are just reacting to a classic NIMBY. I empathize with the concerns. It happens to most of us in some way at some point in time. But this is why the courts have ruled this way: you can’t let the tyranny of a few who do not like situational decision discriminate against the mass.

5 attended February 3, 2016 at 3:47 PM

Your description of what happened at the special town meeting in 2013 is spot on, but it was exacerbated by the fact that a following article on the warrant was for the open space issue at Barn Hallow, which brought out a large crowd. They largely voted to postpone the zoning vote in order to get to their warrant article faster. It was evident to me that if the warrant as written at the time was voted on in that meeting it would have passed. Ultimately, the deceitful politicking worked.

I also agree with ‘n’ that it would be very prudent that if this does keep moving forward to be very clear about limiting this site to just medical usage. Medical usage may have the majority of town support, but even if recreational use passes, I’m not sure Southborough would be in the majority on that one.

6 NNOCS February 3, 2016 at 4:35 PM

I see many comments about the location raising concern for the neighbors. For parents of Southborough children, this dispensary is in everyone’s neighborhood. Citizens can, and I believe we should, modify the bylaws. If they were the best we could come up with at the time in 2014, there is much more information, and, unfortunately, experience, today upon which we can base our decisions. Here’s to hoping we do. Respectfully, Not Near Our Children’s Schools

7 Was at the meeting February 3, 2016 at 4:54 PM

I went to the meeting last night with somewhat of an open mind but I am convinced that this is absolutely not a good thing for our community. Whether you or for against the use of medical marijuana is irrelevant. The attorney who presented really tried tugging at the heart strings saying this would help patients with serious ailments but the truth of the matter is that many, if not most, will not have any medical issues. It is very easy to obtain a medical marijuana card by simply paying a “doctor” a $200 fee and saying you can not sleep at night or have back pain. A woman in the medical field shared a statistic last night that only 0.25% of doctors in MA support this. The biggest issue is that this would be the only dispensary serving this area extending past Worcester and drawing people from all those areas to our community. The attorney stated last night that a major use is to help wean addicts off of the use of heavy narcotic drugs….just something I want about 600 feet from the school our child attends.
In addition, they will be labeled as a non profit and not pay any taxes – so where is the benefit for the community? I am not seeing it….maybe someone can explain.

8 Im in favor February 4, 2016 at 12:03 AM

The truth of the matter is your children are already being preyed upon by the pharmaceutical industry. They have penetrated all of our homes. Medical marijuana is simply an alternative medicine many people will have the opportunity to say No to addictive, opioids and Yes to non-addictive medicine in this form. This is an enormous potential for our children as well as all adults.

I read Beth’s post about the young man in town who had his wisdom teeth pulled and got hooked on opioids. This is a perfect example. I find it interesting how many people question the proponent last night, but don’t ever question the practices many of us already practice. Does anyone ask if there is a better, healthier way to live than what we currently do?

I would never believe for a second the statistic the woman gave last night. The medical community is certainly split on this issue of medical marijuana. No doubt. But far more physicians are in favor of this than .25%. And as the industry grows, you will see many physicians, parents and children asking for alternative, healthier medicine to ease pain and many other chronic illnesses.

It’s probably going to be real easy to get a card. But at least the state now has you on a registry. They can track the drugs. They know who is buying what and when.

Benefit to the Town? For one, Southborough will be on the cutting edge of medicine. It actually could help drive additional investment and interest in the health care community. Might be nice now that the Town let Kaz Systems leave to go to Marlbough as Dave MacKay announced last night. Second, as Bill Boland said and was correct, the Town could benefit from a generous agreement with the developer.

And finally, my heart was warmed and turned on the issue from the gentleman who is leasing the property to the proponent. Mr. Picardi deserves to have that lease and get this business. Its an issue that has affected his family. Stop thinking about yourself all the time and think about other people for once. If you are doing your job as a parent, your child will be just fine…

9 Was at the meeting February 4, 2016 at 3:25 PM

I appreciate your side and can see where you are coming from but as stated, whether you are pro or against the use of medical marijuana is irrelevant. I never stated that I was against the use of medical marijuana at all. Even for recreational use, the effects are less than that of alcohol so I completely hear you. I also realize this can help people with serious ailments – not against that at all.
My worry isn’t that patrons of the facility will run over to the school and sell them weed, as you said, they will have access to that anyway…the true fact is that there will be people who abuse this, and lightly put, will most definitely attract some people to our town that normally wouldn’t be there and be near the school. In my previous post I used the example that the presenter himself used in that a use of this could be to help wean heavy narcotic users off of those drugs – point being I would rather not have heavy narcotics users near my child, didn’t necessarily mean the dispensary.
As far as benefit – I wouldn’t categorize this as the cutting edge of medicine. The town could use some serious help with tax income so why don’t we focus on building up the center of town with restaurants and shops and make it a place the whole community can congregate and gather and support the local business as well as attract other like minded people from surrounding communities too….I guess that would make too much sense.
I also wasn’t trying to offend anyone personally, not my intention at all, just voicing an opinion, which I know we all have different ones so thank you for the parenting remark but our child is a great little guy and we are very proud.
I guess I have an issue when things don’t make sense or cents (for the community, not me).

10 Downtown Resident February 4, 2016 at 7:51 PM

Just a little side note in response to building up the center of town; it can not be any more developed. We have limited parking and the traffic is already too much for this residential area. But we do have The Town Center, where there are 3 restaurants and a nice built in sidewalk, which was designed with families in mind. There is also a lovely garden center with a gift shop right behind The Town Center.

11 Kelly Roney February 5, 2016 at 5:45 PM

I’d love to see a pub in the center of town, a place to get a burger and a beer, maybe listen to an open mike night – but a marijuana shop, not so much.

Mainly, we tolerate alcohol better than pot because we’re so much more familiar with it. After all, beer is the biggest and earliest “gateway drug.”

In 20 years, who knows what will be familiar enough? A medical marijuana dispensary will probably be old hat, with head shops the challenge. Either one is likely to have high profit numbers, and in that way would be a good anchor store for a shopping center. But like everything else it needs to fit.

It’ll be interesting to see how Southborough’s votes fall in the coming legalization referendum. If I recall correctly, more than 60% of our voters opted for medical marijuana.

There’s plenty of parking downtown, by the way. Just between Lyman St. and Latisquama, there are almost 100 spaces.
– close to 20 on the street
– more than 25 at SHoP
– 8 or 10 where the PO used to be
– a dozen at the Spa
– 10 or a dozen at the K of C
– 6 or 8 at the Lamy building
– 20 at the Marlborough Savings Bank

This doesn’t even include the 50+ spaces at the professional building.

12 Downtown Resident February 7, 2016 at 9:22 AM

Hi Kelly! Thanks for your input, but the only municipal parking is the street parking. The other parking that you mentioned belongs to the businesses who own the property and many of those have signs stating that parking is for their customers only, which is understandable.

13 Kelly Roney February 7, 2016 at 7:43 PM

True, but municipal parking isn’t a prerequisite for private businesses. That said, if I were a downtown business owner, especially if my business didn’t have enough parking (say, Mauro’s Market), I’d try to form a downtown business association. If needed (and maybe Mauro’s doesn’t need more than 5 or 6 spaces at once), the association could help work out sharing of parking. I wouldn’t expect to share someone else’s parking for free, but I do think all the business owners have a common cause to increase everyone’s customer visits.

This still imaginary association could also work to get traffic humps (other than the train tracks) to help pedestrians cross back and forth safely. So there is something town government could do, at minimum, to help downtown businesses thrive.

Since Ted’s Towing has moved to Rte. 9, Park St. is available to expand the retail business district. Imagine! People served locally, businesses making money, town government gaining tax revenue – win, win, win. Eventually, the empty corner lot where the Texaco used to be – which has a gasoline contamination plume under – becomes valuable enough to pay for remediation of the hazmat, and the environment wins, too.

14 Downtown Resident February 8, 2016 at 9:12 AM

Some good ideas there! You might be interested in taking a look at corridornine.org

15 Kelly Roney February 8, 2016 at 12:12 PM

Thanks for the tip, DR. I’ll take a look.

16 M February 7, 2016 at 1:12 PM

Please explain: Why “this would be the only dispensary serving this area extending past Worcester”? Where does this restriction come from? Why is there no option to put dispensaries in Worcester, Shrewbury, or other towns “serving this area”? Has every other town west of us, or within 10 miles surrounding Worcester, voted to not allow dispensaries? I am sorry if this was discussed at the meeting which I did not attend. I appreciate your explanation.

17 Kelly Roney February 8, 2016 at 12:19 PM

My understanding is that a town can’t deny permits just because it doesn’t like a legal business. So I’d guess that the absence of other medical marijuana dispensaries between here and Worcester is a matter of choice by business owners and also temporary.

18 R February 4, 2016 at 8:51 AM

I’m curious if any other sites were discussed?

I have a legitimate question. Currently, our officers teach a D.A.R.E. program to our 5th grade kids. How are they going to explain to the kids it’s not okay to take drugs when our town is supporting this business. Supporters, I understand that they can say that this “medicine” will help with certain issues and to be able to get it, you will need a doctor’s note. We’re teaching our children that drug use (and I understand this is not “recreational”) is the answer to problems you may have.

How often do you need to renew your card? I really wish that the doctors allowing this would distribute in their offices to (a) see that it is the person requesting it actually uses it and (b) makes sure they use correctly (not become impaired, no reactions, etc.)

19 beth February 4, 2016 at 9:29 AM

The references to other sites were:

CEO Marc Rosenfeld confirmed that they had identified better options but were rejected by landlords reluctant to lease to a Medical Marijuana facility. Cimino said he would work with CommCan to try to urge landlords at more appropriate sites to reconsider.

To clarify – those were other sites in our town. But they weren’t identified at the meeting.

Also, Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf:

suggested another site she believed was better, though admitting her neighbors wouldn’t like it. [Note: She seemed to be describing Middle Road off of Route 9 East.]

20 RE February 4, 2016 at 10:28 AM

Our D.A.R.E program also teaches the dangers of alcohol, which is a far more dangerous drug than marijuana, yet we have quite a few liquor stores. No one under the age of 21 is legally able to buy alcohol, and we parents have to trust the people behind the counter to obey the law and not sell to our children. I’m not sure why having a medical marijuana dispensary is “teaching our children that drug use is the answer to problems you have”, any more than having liquor stores is teaching our children that alcohol use is the answer to the problems you have. I think we keep talking to our children about the dangers of all drugs when used by anyone under 21, or abused. Marijuana is almost certainly going to become legal for recreational use in the future, so it will fall on parents to keep talking to their kids about the dangers.

21 A March 2, 2016 at 4:49 PM

How do the D.A.R.E officers explain the use of alcohol to the kids? Do they promote the medicinal benefits of a double IPA or a good scotch?

22 Souse Bro February 4, 2016 at 10:55 AM

If your children attend school, they are already tempted with drugs of all kinds much worse than grass, and I’m sure much cheaper than a medicinal product. Half the people using this facility will be lucky to drive themselves, so I don’t see too many 12 year olds walking up Rt.9 and going in to hook up. I’m pretty sure the person behind the counter will be much more trained than at your local package store,(where a buzz is much cheaper). If 0.25% of doctors support this law, than how can it be “very easy” to get a card? I’d be proud to have them as my next door neighbor…

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