Medical Marijuana Dispensary approved by ZBA 4-1 (Updated)

by beth on March 25, 2016

Last night, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved 4-1 CommCan’s permit to open a Medical Marijuana dispensary at 255 Turnpike Road. Town Counsel defended the board as being required to make a decision at last night’s hearing.

However, Counsel did not provide clear justification for the board’s choice to schedule the hearing for last night in the first place.

The “appearance of a rush to judgement” was the theme of several of last night’s public comments. Referring to other projects that had continued for years before the board, residents pushed the board to ask for a continuance.

Selectman Paul Cimino asked the board to clearly address residents’ concerns about whether a Town Meeting vote would have effected the outcome.

Counsel Aldo Cipriano advised that the board was responsible for voting on what was before it that night. Cipriano was clear that the board was responsible for making a timely decision based on current laws. If instead of voting, they delayed the meeting to find out the results of Town Meeting it would have been grounds for appeal.

But, the board had legitimate reasons for continuing the hearing on Wednesday night and the applicant asked to schedule it for the week of April 11th.* What would have happened if the ZBA had agreed and a vote occurred between?

ZBA Chair Leo Bartolini claimed that “the new thing” had nothing to do with the current application. Town Counsel’s response did not clearly support that.

Cipriano was not able to answer the question on “complex” zoning issues if the bylaw changed mid-process. The closest he came was saying that they would have had to see “how it all played out”. 

The board did impose a condition addressing one of residents’ concerns. Erin Wheatley spoke about the dangers of edibles that look like tempting treats to youth, including brownies, cookies, gummy bears, fruit loops, and more. CommCan reps said that the food can’t look like candy in Massachusetts.

As for the other forms, they defended that many patients need to use the edible form and that for people with suppressed appetites it needs to be tempting. They stressed that the edibles are in nondescript opaque packaging with barcodes for tracking.

Some residents and board members weren’t swayed. Responding to examples of edibles that look like brownies with “caramel swirls”, Member Thomas Bhistikul said he thought the food should be made to be less appealing to children. Bhistikul spoke in opposition to the facility as being in the worst spot for it within the legal zone. He said he was swayed by residents’ concerns, especially around diversion issues.

Member Paul Drepanos took up the charge on the edibles. He voted for approval after including a condition for edible to be made in “nondescript medical form even when unwrapped”.

Other conditions included that the applicant will work out an agreement with Selectmen (in other words, agree on funds to be paid to the town), meet with police on safety issues, and sufficiently screen the property from Clifford Street neighbors.

*On Wednesday night, around 11:00 pm the ZBA sought to continue the applicant’s hearing. Several people were still looking to comment and the applicant had been asked to provide a detailed response to a thorough presentation by resident Dr. Safdar Medina. Medina had presented on studies purporting the dangers of medical marijuana and diversion to youth. Town Counsel advised that the applicant should be given a chance to respond to it.

In discussing a future date the applicant said he would be out of town for two weeks, but could come back the week of April 11th. At that time, Bartolini stated, “We have to get it done before ”. Interrupting, the applicant responded “Yeah, I understand”. April 11th is the opening of Town Meeting. The application filing deadline is listed on the agendas as May 16.

Wednesday night, Bartolini stated that if residents continued to have major concerns on Thursday night, the hearing could be continued again. Last night, the hearing continued well past its scheduled hour before discussion was closed for members to deliberate.

Updated (3/29/16 8:27 am): Following up on one item that I promised some readers I’d look into. The question was raised about the notice for the continued hearing. The moving up of the ZBA meeting and addition of a continued hearing was with less than 48 hours notice. Some wondered if that was really legal.

I understood the continuance, but not the moving up of their meeting to an hour earlier in order to fit that in. But, I learned that an Assistant Attorney General instructed the Town Clerk it was allowed after consultation with Town Counsel. He advised that the revised meeting notice be posted, which it was.

1 Jojama March 25, 2016 at 4:02 PM

Dr. Medina gave a very scholarly yet understandable presentation on Wednesday night. One Board member stated he didn’t know how to interpret the information nor did he have the time (or interest?) to do so. Thankfully CommCan came back last night with their “studies” quoting the Huffington Post. The Board were enthralled with the articles.

2 Kim March 25, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Southborough Residents, Please take time to watch the videos of the ZBA meeting on the Medical Marijuana Dispensary. We should all be asking why something so complicated and impactful to the neighborhood and schools was rushed through the ZBA. Watch Bartolini struggling to justify the “whatyamacallit” some legal term that he bantered about both nights. There is clearly some behind the scenes politicking going on and as residents we should be outraged. Regardless, of your feelings on where the Dispensary is located, everyone should feel duped by this Board and I call Aldo out as being part of what is nothing short of illegal. Aldo, as town Council of Southborough, failed in a so many ways last night that he should no longer be working for us. He danced around pointed questions failing to answer because everything he and the Board were doing was is potential unethical and maybe even illegal. That Board had no business issuing the permit. They spent very little time reviewing the immense amount of data that the extremely knowledgable residents presented. Instead, they looked to the CommCan attorney as he cited data from the well known Huffington Post ( of note our Building Inspector also used the non peer reviewed Wikipedia to support one of his claims). What an absolute joke and insult to the residents.
As a resident of Southborough, maybe you don’t care about these meetings and you don’t care that a shop a short skip to the school is selling yummy fudge brownies fresh baked laced with THC that once unwrapped look exactly like the brownies on my counter. I get it… But you should care about how your town is being run as you may be sitting in front of one of these Boards. The ZBA now has to have Aldo, our legal counsel at every meeting because it has been run so ineptly. Guess who is paying for that??? We are. And after hearing Aldo skirt and dance around questions that we as residents of this town have every right to have clear answers to, be upset. Take time to write a letter to the Board of Selectman. Ask questions, be concerned that things just are not right, demand clear answers from the people that we have voted to represent us. I smell something bad and it’s not the medical marijuana, it’s the agreements and business dealings that are going on behind closed doors. This ConnCam is just the tip of the iceberg.

3 Julie Connelly March 25, 2016 at 5:18 PM

After attending both nights of ZBA meetings as well as the BOS meeting in which the letter of non-opposition was issued, I’m appalled at the dismissive attitude of most members of both boards (with one or two exceptions) toward the hundreds of citizens who attended these meetings, submitted letters and signed petitions, including multiple medical professionals and high ranking law enforcement officials who are well credentialed and well versed to speak on this important topic. The contention by the boards that we voted for this at town meeting by approving the zoning law is weak at best. Fewer than 200 residents were at that town meeting, and approving a general zoning law which was pitched as a protective measure to avoid having dispensaries be put “anywhere” does not translate to approval for this particular project which will result in trading cash for drugs a stone’s throw from our public schools. Almost 500 citizens have since signed a petition and many more have participated in public meetings speaking out against this project with very few voices in favor of it. Both boards acted as if approval was concluded before public comment began. Chairman Bartolini actually said that the ZBA had already made up its mind during the public comment period. BOS and ZBA acted as if their hands were tied and that they had to allow this to go through, which is unequivocally not the case. Both could have simply denied the application and reasonably stated that this was not the right place or time for a dispensary, or waited until after town meeting. This has been done successfully in many towns similar to Southborough and despite the fear-mongering of certain officials that we would get sued or that the State would start opening dispensaries at in the middle of our playgrounds, this simply has not and will not happen. I would not be upset at the result if this had been put through a fair process, but it was not. The mission from the beginning was to accommodate the applicant and placate the residents.

4 resident March 27, 2016 at 2:23 PM

Good job ZBA. As a neighbor to this facility I support it 100%. Let’s just make sure the ingress and egress are on route 9. SPD has a firm handle on those roadways. The rest of you opposition people need to get real. You all go to doctors and Jack yourselves up on pharmacy when natural God made ingredients are the cure for your anxiety and pain already. Just chill. Or would you rather your sons and daughters become the local pharmacy. Get real people.

5 Wake Up Call, Really March 28, 2016 at 3:51 PM

There are 2 issues here. The first being the questionable actions of the ZBA brought up by Kim in her earlier post, which are quite concerning.

The second issue is the language being used by residents to instill fear in our community at the thought of a dispensary in this town. It is a medical marijuana dispensary not a Seven Eleven with pot brownies on the counter next to the register. Trust me, your child has a WAY better chance of getting their hands on alcohol, ecstasy, Adderall, acid, or mushrooms than they do of getting marijuana at a local dispensary. They can already get their hands on this stuff right in our little town and our regional high school. Parents need to wake up and realize this is ALREADY accessable to our children right NOW! Even before this place even opens!

Our high school (and most high schools, probably) is a little pharmacy in and of itself and to think otherwise is VERY naive. “But, they have random drug sniffing dog searches at ARHS” you say? They are a joke and they are rare. They corral all the kids into classrooms and the dogs sniff the lockers and sometimes the cars in the lot. Any honest high schooler will tell you only a fool would leave their drugs in their lockers. They keep them in their backpacks all safe and sound on their bodies in the classrooms while the dogs search the lockers. Well done ARHS. Need some vodka for an upcoming party?Easy peasy, you can EASILY purchase a water bottle full of vodka from any number of students at ARHS. Heck, you can even get it at Trottier these days! Where do you think they are filling up those water bottles? Lots of high schoolers already have fake IDs and if they don’t, they are siphering it from your liqueur cabinets. Trust me.

Our kids don’t need to fear the dispensary and neither do the grown ups. Our worst nightmare is already out there and our kids already have access to it. Heck, some of my peers buy their highschoolers alcohol! Some of my peers allow their sons/daughters and friends to drink at their homes! THAT is way scarier than a medical marijuana dispensary.

Be open and honest with your kids. Talk with your kids. Know their friends. I NEVER give my kids cash to get MacDonalds or Chipotle – they get a debit card where I control the teeny tiny flow of money they are allowed. No cash? No water bottle full of vodka. No parent answers the phone? No sleep over. Lock up your alcohol at home or mark the bottles. All this and they STILL will find trouble – it’s what they do. Don’t worry about the dispensary, worry about what’s already readily and easily available now.

6 Jojama March 28, 2016 at 5:04 PM

Thank you Wake Up Call,

I think you missed the REAL issue to the residents directly behind the dispensary.It is the fact there will be a cash business in their back yards! Not to mention increased traffic through the neighborhoods. Oh and the NEED for heightened security. That must make residents of Clifford Road feel SAFER! Now there is a need for security, increased police patrols,extra lighting and staggered money pick ups so there is not a trend to follow!
To most of the neighbors the issue is proximity to the neighborhood and the buffer written into the bylaws protecting them. Something that Mr. Bartolini and friends failed to understand AND BTW JUST BECAUSE CON CAMM SAYS IT WILL BE SAFE DOESN’T MAKE IT TRUE! NOT EVEN IF THE HUFFINGTON POST SAYS SO!

7 Wake Up Call, Really March 28, 2016 at 7:01 PM

I can understand resident fears on the basis of those reasons. I was just saying that to NOT have one based on fears that our kids will be exposed to drugs or have access to drugs is silly. They will (and do) have more exposure at high school. They have more exposure from their own dentist! My son’s dentist handed him a full bottle of oxycodone (30 tablets!) after his wisdom teeth extraction.

8 This is pathetic March 28, 2016 at 8:43 PM

In reading the newspapers, this blog and watching the various hearings and meetings online on SAM, I am actually much more concerned about the tactics by Clifford Road residents than I am of the people who will be buying the marijuana!

The Clifford Road residents and other fear-mongers are a greater threat to our town than the cancer patient buying a pot brownie. Folks, for clarity, the Clifford Road residents are establishing an illegal business, lying on TV, they have no lawyer, they are wasting hours upon hours of taxpayer and volunteer time; all to prevent some leukemia patient a pot brownie to ease nausea and pain. Get a bleepin’ grip.

I fully respect every citizen’s due process. I’m all about it. But this last second bylaw change and this ridiculous Fundamentals Basketball Camp is such a big waste of time and pathetic attempt as NIMBY. These people had their chance at Town Meeting over two years ago. Town Meeting was clear about this and the officials in charge made a great presentation at Town Meeting. It was clear what was going on. In fact, the vast majority of voters did NOT want a bylaw that stuck a business up in a non lit industrial park. They wanted a shorter buffer zone and they wanted a more inclusive bylaw. The voters decided.

These residents would be better off spending time with their children, parenting, educating their kids, like the rest of us, on the the negative aspects of drugs and just teaching their children of what is going on here. It’s called compassion and parenting. Compassion for those who need the medical marijuana. And parenting, which is by far the most effective way to ensure our children don’t use drugs.

I think Town Meeting did a great job with the bylaw. And I think town officials, the Selectmen and ZBA have done a fine job.

9 Southborough Residece March 29, 2016 at 9:44 AM

I do not who are you since you are afraid to share your name. I have to say that lots of residences were not aware or notified by town two years ago. Did town send notification letter to every residence to allow them to go to vote two years ago?

Do you have any evidence that RMD is a better thing for town? We are fight this because we want to our kids to be safe here. What did you do here? to support yourself? How many patients in the town need Marijuana? How many kids in the school. Please use your common sense for the numbers!

10 Response March 30, 2016 at 9:38 PM

A quick Google search answers these question.

See the state DPH site who is administering this program (link below). In fact, credit Republican Charlie Baker for turning this program around and fixing it from his predecessor.

Here you will see almost 21,000 active patients have licenses, another thousand plus caregivers. It does not have town by town. But if you look at the monthly data, right here on the link below, you will see that number has been increasing as the program has been cleaned up by Gov. Baker’s staff, physician’s licenses are increasing in frequency, and the dispensaries have opened up. There are 6 dispensaries open statewide according to the website. Doesn’t seem like that many to me. I’m sure there will be more than six, but the website shows the closest is Ayer or Brookline.

Check the By The Numbers section to the bottom right:

http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/hcq/medical-marijuana/

And by the way, the town never sends letters to every house about town meeting. That is your responsibility. Even if they did, it would be a big waste of money as usually only a couple hundred people attend each year.

Rest assured, your kids will be plenty safe. This is one of the greatest towns in Massachusetts with great parents, great families and great kids. We are fortunate to have a great police department and some of the very best schools that are producing some exceptionally bright children. I know mine are much smarter than me! And thank goodness. Just talk to your children about the facility and your kids will be better off and plenty safe.

The Clifford Road paranoia, fear tactics, NIMBY-ism and this illegal basketball court is a much more threatening lesson to teach our children than a pot brownie for people who are sick or injured or who have had surgery.

11 SB Resident March 29, 2016 at 10:53 AM

That is not what happened at town meeting two years ago. I was there and it was clear to me that the residents would have voted for the strict bylaw, which is why those who opposed the bylaw put for the vote to delay voting on the bylaw. The voters never go the chance to decide!

And if you think that these dispensaries have anything to do with getting cancer patients medication for their pain then you are the one who needs to look in the mirror and figure out who needs to get a grip.

12 Doni March 29, 2016 at 12:13 PM

Can you please share some insight that how many caner patients in our town is desperately in need of these dispensaries which makes it unethical not to pass it? We haven’t even got one grocery for decades in our town which we have live our daily lives by.

13 Response March 30, 2016 at 9:58 PM

The voters clearly decided. It passed town meeting well more than the required two-thirds in 2014. It passed at the 2012 ballot by two-thirds statewide. You are in the minority here.

And while I understand the nervousness anyone would have if anything new moves into town, Clifford Road residents do live within a stones throw of Route 9. The exhaust from cars and the Volvo dealership will do more damage to your kids than the dispensary.

Speaking of things that could impact the area residents, I know it must be much more than 1,000 feet, but no doubt in the neighborhood of Clifford Rd and certainly the schools: why didn’t anyone come out in this full force when Sperry’s opened? Isn;t alcohol bad for kids? A bad influence? What if it gets in the hands of kids? Or gets left on kitchen tables and in houses where kids can get it? All the same concerns seemed to bypass a full liquor store opening right in the neighborhood? Those public hearing’s got crickets. But the dispensary seems to get pitchforks and torches?

Hypocrisy.

14 SB Resident March 31, 2016 at 1:10 PM

While you are correct that this did pass in 2012 statewide, the margin was smaller in sboro and I believe on a ballot question people vote for the theory not the methodology. I support medical marijuana, but I think it should be distributed through the same system that we already have put in place for every other drug. Why is this one drug so different?

However, to say the voters clearly decided at town meeting is completely misleading and more wrong than right. The only thing voters have decided at town meeting is to put limits on the dispensaries. If the warrant at town meeting were stricter, I believe the town would have voted for that too. If you’re so confident in the decisions of the voters why not wait for this next town meeting and let the voters speak again.

Is your last argument that just because there are already socially negative things in our neighborhoods, that means we should open the floodgates? The differences surrounding alcohol and marijuana are vast but at the end of the day only one is currently a federally banned substance.

15 Doni March 31, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Very well said, SB resident!

16 Check Your Facts April 2, 2016 at 7:15 PM

Again, a quick Google search shows you are incorrect.

The statewide ballot question was approved by 63% and the Town of Southborough approved the question by the exact same margin, 63%.

http://archive.boston.com/news/special/politics/2012/general/mass-ballot-questions-election-results-2012.html

I understand Clifford Road residents don’t want this and have many valid concerns about the project and their children. But neighbors don’t get to vote on everything that goes into their neighborhood. That’s illegal. Especially when you live within 500 feet of a major state highway. Unless you have the funds to buy the land and build a business (or not), this is the way it works. You also had your chance at Town Meeting and the bylaw was passed almost unanimously.

I find it shameful at the distortions to make a case for something that the residents are wrong about. Every argument I have heard at the meetings is incorrect and distorted. I think the residents would be much better off working within the system and framework the state and town developed than wasting hours of time, staff time, volunteer time, creating mischeivous illegal basketball programs, wasting Town Meeting time on more ridiculous warrant articles and just getting everyone into a big tizzy about this.

17 beth April 3, 2016 at 9:27 AM

“Check Your Facts” is correct. Southborough voted yes by 63%.

18 Doni March 29, 2016 at 12:13 PM

add to my points above, correct “grocery” to “grocery store”

19 Shane Whitecomb March 29, 2016 at 8:59 PM

This is not something that will be placed in every town in the state their are only a certain number that will be placed around the state. This is not just for our town does anyone understand that.

20 Doug Dratch April 1, 2016 at 5:12 PM

First of all – anyone that thinks “Medical marijuana” is about cancer patients having access to this drug, you should have their head examined. This is about money – that’s it. If you really want to understand – you need to take a trip to Colorado. Now that it is legal – there are dispensaries all over the place and they are making a ton of cash.

What I find almost comical – Pizza 19 wanted to put up a sign so they could sell more Pizza – but the ZBA would not allow it.

Personally, I am completely against there being a dispensary anywhere in this town. Just like I don’t want to see tattoo parlors or strip joints. We just don’t need it. If you smoke pot, there will be plenty of places not too far from SoBo that will have it.

By the way – if there is anyone out there that wants to put in a grocery store – I will completely support it!

21 Trixie April 5, 2016 at 6:44 AM

I’m afraid we will be like Colorado very soon. There is a referendum to legalize marijuana on the ballot this fall and the consensus seems to be that it will pass.

22 SBD April 5, 2016 at 11:28 AM

They’ll have my vote. Legalize it, tax it, take it away from the dark side. Pot is the least of our problems. Kids will get it if they want it, it’s ridiculously easy to find. Not too long ago I know kids that could exchange for it in History Class.. (not in MA)

Pot is way less offensive than booze. Times are changing.

23 Frank Crowell April 3, 2016 at 11:57 AM

Two points on this discussion –

Al Hamilton pointed out years ago that a small minority are ruling over the majority of Southborough due to a lack of participation at TM (Not his exact words but the overall point is) so I find it hard to sympathize with the people who oppose this. If the issue has been settled at the ballot box and TM, pretty hard to claim a law has been slipped by us.

What I find more interesting is that at the very school in question there was an alleged embezzler who had a six figure drug habit at fairly close distance from forth and fifth graders (same building). This is not a hypothetical – it actually happened. This should receive more attention and citizen wrath than the proposed dispensary.

24 Downtown Resident April 3, 2016 at 9:54 PM

meanwhile & while everyone is distracted….a second Wendy’s WITH A (gasp) DRIVE THROUGH is going in where Tin Alley once was! The horrors! because, as everyone knows, Wendy’s changed our lives ever so much.
I’ve been wondering just how will the patrons of CommCan gain access to the students at Neary & Trottier? They students are supervised while getting off/on the bus and during recess time. No one can enter the schools without buzzing in. I just don’t see how it would be possible.

25 Mark Ford April 4, 2016 at 2:28 PM

Hey I believe the idea of a strip club in that location was floated a while back…not sure it was going to be a drive through, though…

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