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Public questions put off hearing on medical-marijuana dispensary three weeks

UPDATED, Aug. 26: Issues of security, traffic and hours were among the reason cited by the Redevelopment Board chairman for continuing until Sept. 12 a hearing for a proposed medical-marijuana dispensary at 11 Water St.

Redevelopment Board logo, Jan. 23, 2013

Medical-marijuana imageOrder of hearing, buffer zone raised

In moving to delay Monday, Aug. 22, Chairman Andrew Bunnell did not refer to claims by Chris Loreti, a former Redevelopment Board member who was videotaping the hearing, that the matter should first be heard by the Board of Health and that the current plan violates the 500-foot buffer zone to separate such facilities from children.

"The applicants have no business being here," Loreti said. "This facility has not received a permit from the Board of Health. They are getting ahead of themselves."

Less than 500 feet away from the proposed dispensary, he said, is a children's reading program, a Montessori school and the Robbins children's library.

An attorney for the Massachusetts Patient Foundation of Newton, the applicant, said that Arlington does not fall under the 500-foot rule. Asked about that rule, Town Counsel Doug Heim responded Friday, Aug. 26. He referred to his memo to selectmen last February that says, in part:

"To date, DPH has interpreted this requirement to include facilities dedicated to the use of children such as. dance schools or gymnastics schools, but not other locations where children may frequently congregate but not in structured, heavily scheduled fashion."

Asked to comment on Loreti's claim about the order of hearings, Jenny Raitt, director of planning and community development, wrote Aug. 23: "I followed the correct procedure for the special-permit public hearing for the RMD [registered marijuana dispensary] as advised by our town counsel."

4-0 vote after 1 1/2-hour hearing

The Redevelopment board voted, 4-0, to delay after a 1 1/2-hour hearing that included a presentation of the foundation, questions from board members and comments from seven in an audience of about 35 people in the main room of the Senior Center.

In February, selectmen voted, 4-0, to support a statement of nonopposition, which allowed the proposal to move forward.

The 1,890-square-foot dispensary would be situated in Suite 3B at 11 Water St. in Arlington Center. The offices are at the rear of the building on the third floor, separated from other businesses.

The foundation's application says the dispensary would be open seven days a week. The application lists hours of Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. But foundation representatives said at the hearing that the precise hours were yet to be determined.

Cofounder Joseph Lekach said 11 Water St. would be a retail dispensary only, with cultivation and processing taking place at a separate facility, in Fitchburg.

He said that if the foundation can gain the board's approval for a special permit, then it would apply to the state and local Boards of Health, which would hold hearings. If the dispensary is approved, community meetings would be held annually -- a step that he praised Arlington for requiring.

Agreement, questions

The foundation's presentation emphasized the proposals for security, traffic and waste as well as the medical need for marijuana.

One member of the audience agreed with them about the latter. Laurence McKinney, a former Town Meeting member who has long advocated safe marijuana use, said, referring to some speakers from the audience: "You’re acting like it's plutonium .... [By smoking it] I became addicted to good grades and good writing."

Others raised questions.

Bob Radochia, a Precinct 11 Town Meeting member, wanted to know how town benefits from the dispensary.

Board member Michael Cayer said Arlington would get $100,000 plus 3 percent of the gross annual revenues.

Asked how much the 3 percent could amount to, Lekach said, "Hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Radochia clarified his question: "what will this do to the quality of life here?" He urged the board to take no vote until the state ballot question of recreational marijuana is decided in November.

"It's not up to us to delay anything," Cayer said.

Town counsel Heim emphasized Aug. 26 that the special permit the Redevelopment Board is considering has only to do with medical marijuana -- and nothing to do with the ballot question on recreational maijuana. Heim said "it is important for the public to come out [to these hearings] and let the board know about their concerns.

A Water Street neighbor wanted to know how much traffic to expect, include the frequency of armored vehicles, whose presence might increase the chance of robbery.

Lekach said he anticipated armored trucks every other day and estimated the number of patients at 50 to 70 a day.

Perception issue

A financial planner whose office is in the Water Street building expressed concerns about traffic as well as customers "going down and lighting up .... It becomes a perception [problem} for our customers."

Lekach said onsite security would to make sure patients go home. Any customer using marijuana before driving would be denied use of the dispensary, he said.

A Robbins Road resident said he agreed with Loreti's comments and wanted to know how the foundation has represented its understanding of the buffer-zone rule regarding children.

Vicente Sederberg, the foundation's attorney, said that, for Arlington, the 500-foot rule is not codified, and the issue has been vetted through town counsel.

The resident said he had asked the state Department of Public Health about the question and received an opposite response about Arlington.

A woman who said has a long-term lease at Water Street, said the structure had been inaccurately described as a medical building. She also wanted to know people would be prevented reaching the third floor after from entering art ground level. She wondered how the smell of marijuana might affect other businesses.

Lekach said the dispensary would have carbon filter installed. He had noted earlier the two-step plan under which customers would enter the third-floor offices using state-issued card

Bunnell asked the applicants to work with town planners to address a variety of questions He said the public could comment further Sept. 12.

A 2012 statewide vote supported medical marijuana, and Arlington residents backed the measure by 68 percent.

April 13, 2016: Selectmen take 3rd step toward dispensary after 7 object 

Cambridge Day, Feb. 24, 2016: Debate over medical marijuana facility nudges officials toward citywide zoning

Oct. 21, 2015: Board seeks more specifics about proposed medical-marijuana dispensary

Globe, Aug. 5, 2015: Norwood selectmen not opposed to marijuana dispensary bid

This news summary was published Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, and updated Aug. 26, to add counsel's comment.

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