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.