Recently, I came across information that prompted me to ask questions. In the end, I still feel that I’m left with more questions than clear answers. I welcome Town Officials and CommCan to clarify the situation. But with no response to some of my questions, I’m sharing what I know and the questions I still have.
It appears that CommCan may be violating a condition of its Special Permit. It also appears that there is a gap in oversight of that condition.
The condition I’m referring to is #6:
Edible products shall take the appearance of nondescript, medicinal forms as allowable by applicable state laws and shall not resemble the appearance of candy-like products
This fall, the medical marijauana dispensary CommCan held its ribbon cutting ceremony in Southborough. (You can read about that in Southborough Wicked Local.)
Planning to run a post about the ribbon cutting, I checked out the dispensary’s website for publicity photos. I was surprised to discover posts marketing the sales of “chocolate bars” and “gummies”. (Click on thumbnails below for example Facebook posts and a recent menu cropped from the website.)
I was surprised since I thought that candy versions of edibles were disallowed at the dispensary.
In March 2016, I wrote that the ZBA’s special permit required edibles to be in nondescript medical form. If the situation changed, I wanted to update readers. I followed up with CommCan and the Town to try to understand – did I misunderstand something, or did I miss something that happened later?
Do the gummies and bars have a non-candy-like “appearance”? Was the condition determined unenforcable? Is there some other factor I’m not considering?
I didn’t get clear answers. Instead, I found that no one was taking responsibility for enforcing the condition.
Back in 2016, parents upset about the dispensary opening within 1,000 feet of a school (and closer to some neighborhoods) detailed some of their worries to the ZBA. One was about the edible forms of marijauna that could look like candy. There was talk about children accidentally getting ahold of edibles or nefarious customers selling or giving “candy” to unsuspecting children.
ZBA member Paul Drepanos heard the concerns and suggested a condition that the edibles not look like treats. The board appeared to have the impression that candy wouldn’t be allowed under state law. But there were still concerns about how decadent brownies might look (e.g., with caramel drizzles).
The promise that packaging would be nondescript wasn’t enough for Drepanos. He was responding to worries about how the product would look once packages were opened. Board members agreed to include the nondescript condition as part of the permit.
CommCan hasn’t posted images of the edibles. So I thought, maybe it does meet the criteria – and its unattractive appearance is why there aren’t pictures.
When I raised the question to CommCan’s CEO Marc Rosenfeld, he responded:
since edible products are food it is not possible to make food not look like food.
He went on to state that edibles are important. (At past hearings, arguments were made that some of the people who need marijuana need/want to eat it instead of smoking it, and that it needs to be tempting given issues with appetite and nausea.) He assured that edibles packaging meets “strict” state requirements:
(opaque packaging, nothing resembling commercially available products, no cartoon-like imagery, etc…)
I did point out that the condition was about unwrapped candy and included a link go the video of the discussion*. Rosenfeld responded that he hadn’t watched the video. (Note, he was in attendance to witness to the conversation that night.) But he didn’t clearly answer my other questions.
That included – was the condition deemed unenforcable “by applicable state laws”. If so had the ZBA or another Town Official been informed of that decision? I haven’t gotten any answers on that from CommCan or the Town officials I reached out to.
I was also unable to determine who is responsible for ensuring that CommCan complies with the permit or what the process is for that.
When I followed up with the Building Commissioner Mark Robidoux, he said that entering the premises to inspect their edibles wouldn’t be in his authority. He presumed that the Southborough Police Department would be responsible under condition 1:
Subject to review and approval by the Police Chief of the proposed safety plan, with regularly scheduled updates with the Police Department thereafter
When I followed up with Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus, he responded that the dispensary was compliant with state regulations. He verified that the packaging was nondescript as required by the state. But he said that it wasn’t the SPD’s place to enforce ZBA conditions.
On Friday, I again emailed the ZBA Chair and Town Administrator, plus the Chair of the Board of Selectmen. I informed them of that discrepancy as well as my other still unanswered questions. I haven’t heard back. (Although, TA Mark Purple did respond to my first inquiry to provide the decision and host agreement.)*
I’m hoping these issues will be addressed at a future public meeting.
*Here is the ZBA’s decision, the March 24, 2016 hearing Minutes, the final wording approved by board via SAM video, and the preceding discussion between members, leading up to that decision. That decision was hinged on CommCan reaching a Host Agreement with the Town. Here is the final version. By my amateur reading the Host Agreement doesn’t reaffirm special permit condition, but it also doesn’t seem to undermine it.