By Debra Parkhurst
On June 13, Seven Point of Massachusetts, Inc. asked the Bedford Selectmen to consider issuing “a letter of no opposition” or a “letter of support” for a proposed Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD) to be located at 131A The Great Road.
Seven Point is in the “siting profile” phase of the application process before the Department of Public Health (DPH) for establishing a dispensary. During this phase, the applicant identifies specific locations for dispensaries. The applicant is required to ensure that they comply with all local codes and they must submit the intent of the business to the local Police and Chief Administrative Officer. Regulations also require either a letter of “no opposition” or a letter of “support”from the Town to complete the process.
CEO Brad Zerman and Attorney Doug Deschenes represented Seven Point at the meeting. Seven Point currently operates a dispensary in Oak Park, Illinois.
A memo dated June 30 from Building Inspector Chris Laskey states the property spans two districts; Limited Business and Residence B. However, the proposed building is entirely in the Business Zone, and lacking specific language in the bylaw regarding medical marijuana sales, Laskey considered this a retail use. Retail use is allowed in the zone if the sales area does not exceed 2,000 square feet.
Zerman pointed to Bedford’s zoning, strong commercial area, and area access as reasons for siting the RMD in Bedford. Seven Point is also looking at properties in Ayer, Winchendon, and Gardner, and expects to finish the State approval process for a dispensary in Middleborough. They are also proposing a cultivation center in Ayer.
Massachusetts voters approved, and subsequently the Legislature passed a law in 2012 allowing the sale of medical marijuana through RMDs. The Department of Public Health (DPH)issues regulations and approves dispensaries through their process. At this time, there are six RMDs in Massachusetts: Ayer, Brockton, Brookline, Lowell, Northampton and Salem.
A Memo from Chief of Police Robert Bongiorno to the Town Manager dated June 9, 2015, expressed Bedford Police concerns, including “loitering, public use of marijuana, traffic congestion, noise, property destruction, odor complaints, and drug re-sales & diversion…” CEO Zerman, and his Director of Security Mitch Suzan briefly discussed their security standards and operations, and noted that anyone entering an RMD has to present a Medical Marijuana card, issued by a medical practitioner. He said there are 18,000 cards in Massachusetts now, and expects there to be 7,000 more in the near future. Uses for medical marijuana include pain management and relieffrom cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and multiple sclerosis, among other medical conditions.
The Selectmen expressed particular concern about the upcoming November ballot question proposed to approve the sale of recreational marijuana, and how that would affect the dispensaries. Could they become retail outlets for recreational use?
Resident Kris Washington commented that current RMDs are located mostly in larger towns. He also questioned how this influences the current opioid epidemic crisis. Anita Raj, a member of the Bedford Board of Health, said the town has bylaws in place that limit smoking with the intent of reducing smoking overall. She also claimed that research indicates that marijuana is a gateway drug and has a negative impact on the developing brain. She has questions regarding regulationof marijuana food products and is concerned about the November ballot initiative affecting the dispensaries. Jeff Cohen of the Planning Board said that while the use might be considered retail, he had questions about traffic generation, the number of customers, and delivery methods and impacts. A traffic report was not submitted.
Zerman said there are 200 pending applications for dispensaries in the state and the local impact depends on how many will open around the state. Seven Pointwill not sell tobacco, and Zerman believed smoking marijuana has not led to negative health impacts. Zerman contended smoking cannibusis an “exit” rather than a “gateway” [product] which helps people get off their addiction.
Chairman Mike Rosenberg said he recognized the need for medical marijuana, but with so much uncertainty about the November vote, he would not be able to support it at this time.The proponent would need three favorable votes to proceed (as an abutter, Selectmen Bill Moonan had recused himself from the vote).
Town Manager Richard Reed said that while individual towns can set up buffer areas around dispensaries, in the absence of local zoning or bylaws, the DPH provides a 500 foot setback from “any facility in which children congregate.“ In this case, the 500 foot buffer zone includes First Parish church on the Common, which has several programs involving children.
The Selectmen did not take action at this time. The proponents said they will continue to review their proposal and will provide more information to the Selectmen.