Medical-marijuana image

Board of Health OK clears way

UPDATED, July 14: The medical-marijuana office planned for Water Street could open in a year, an attorney for the company behind the effort says.

Valerio Romano, an attorney for the Massachusetts Patient Foundation, calls his forecast less optimistic than that of foundation owners, who he says expect an opening sooner. His prediction, made this week to YourArlington, is also less optimistic than the target date he told the town Board of Health in June -- expected then to be the first or second quarter of 2018, according to draft minutes. 

Christine Bongiorno, director of health and human services, reported that the town's Board of Health last month voted to conditionally approve the Water Street facility. The Redevelopment Board approved the special permit for the office last November

Steps to take

Responding to a request, Bongiorno laid out in an email July 10 the conditions to be met before the town issues a permit:

 · Permit fee to be submitted; 

· Dispensary agent permits to be submitted;

· Proof of final certificate from state Department of Public Health;

· Surety bond;

· Finalized handbook approval;

· Annual community meeting;

· Confirmation that no lottery, tobacco or nicotine delivery products will be sold on site; and

· Preoperational inspection.

She declined to estimate how long those steps would take and referred YourArlington to Romano of the VGR Law Firm.

Cultivation, processing in Fitchburg

In a phone call July 10, the attorney acknowledged the number of steps yet to go and said his current focus was on the foundation's facility at 99 Development Road, Fitchburg, for cultivation, processing and packaging of medical marijuana. The Newton-based company operates dispensaries in Oregon and Colorado. It is seeking to open them in Lynn and Holyoke.

The provisional certificate of registration awarded by the state includes the Fitchburg cultivation facility, which is in the planning and construction phase.  

As he had in previous hearings, Romano said the foundation was opening a dispensary only for medical marijuana -- one that provides the drug to those with a doctor's permission to receive it. Voters statewide and in Arlington voted overwhelmingly in 2012 to support medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana is a separate issue. The company has no plans for opening a business to sell pot for recreational users. He said the foundation would have to seek a new special permit for the Redevelopment Board to do so.

Arlington Town Meeting this spring voted to support a moratorium on opening recreational-marijuana outlets until next June, a measure that the state attorney general must approve. The vote was 161-51-2. The town's moratorium is timed to follow state Department of Health caution to put into effect the rules involved following voters' approval of recreational marijuana last November.

In the meantime, the state is in a new fiscal year, and the Legislature has not agreed to measures clarifying the matter. In a July 9 report, The MetroWest Daily News quoted Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeantquoted Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant: "I understand it's kind of a third-rail issue, but just put the rules in place and then we can deal with it."

State Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, says that a conference committee trying to hammer out a compromise on marijuana regulations is "working hard" but adds it would be "dangerous" to make any predictions about the outcome of ongoing talks, the Boston Herald reports.  

Concerns expressed in April, May

Let's get back to Arlington. At its June 21 meeting, the town Board of Health voted, 3-0, to support conditional approval for the 11 Water St. dispensary. Draft minutes say: "Through discussions it was determined that all of the previous concerns raised by the Board have been satisfactorily addressed."

Minutes of two earlier board meetings reflect what those concerns were.

At the April 12 session, Patricia Worden, a Town Meeting member, "stated that with 99% confidence, current laws will allow medical marijuana dispensaries to become recreational marijuana dispensaries, which she believes will allow this facility to become a 'pot shop' and 'pot café.' She expressed 'shock' that this will be allowed in Arlington which will cause extreme damage to children, whose brains are yet to be fully developed."

Romano told the board that Redevelopment Board permit "is exclusively for the sale of medical marijuana only, and it is not their intent to sell recreational marijuana at this location."

Karen Thomas-Alyea, an opponent of the dispensary who had been vocal at many public meetings, cited the lack of a buffer zone and that Water Street location "has Pediatrician Offices, Nurse Practitioner Offices, and is close to a pre-school, church, public library, park, toy store, and bike path. She expressed concern regarding individuals using the products in the stairwells, hallways, street, and parking lot. She expressed frustration that her concerns have been ignored, and wants to express these concerns for the thousands of school children within the community."

John Worden, a former Town Meeting moderator, sought clarification about the nonprofit status of the Massachusetts Patient Foundation. Romano said the foundation complies with the nonprofit requirements of 105 CMR 725.100(A)(1).

The board tabled the issues to the May 24 meeting to verify if policies and procedures comply with the board's medical-marijuana regulations.

Security plan reviewed, added questions

At the continued hearing in May, Natasha Waden, the health-compliance officer, told the board that Arlington police had reviewed the security plan, with no objections. Police reserved the right to inspect the facility and make recommendations/requirements once the build-out is complete.

Waden had additional questions regarding:

-- The Patient Information Manual;

-- Policies on employee training;

-- Dispensing to those who have hardship cultivation permit and how to coordinate to confirm that they have a local permit;

-- On-site consumption, for training purposes, which Inspector Waden requested be redacted or removed if possible; and

-- Marijuana-infused products, specifically regarding labeling of products.

The foundation's Joseph Lekach and Romano said the patient manual will have all the information requested. Regarding dispensing to those who have hardship cultivation, they are aware that a local health permit is required and that seeds will not be sold at this location. 

They said they will strike the clause in the application regarding on-site consumption for training purposes. They will provide a list of all products with all ingredients to the Board of Health.

Board member Dr. Kevin Fallon asked how would the dispensary avoid people congregating in halls while waiting for their appointment should the facility reach its capacity, He said he was told that at the Salem dispensary, if large groups are waiting, individuals sign in and are instructed to wait in their vehicles, and are called on their cell phones when it is their turn.

Lekach said that with more dispensaries opening in Massachusetts, and delivery services available, he does not expect this to be a problem in Arlington. He said the foundation would look into options in case capacity is reached. 

Resident Nancy Lowe noted lack of parking in that area. Lekach suggested posting current wait times on the foundation website, something done by urgent-care facilities and the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

Board member Dr. Walsh Condon emphasized her concern about medical advice being provided by nonmedical employees regarding dosage and best method of ingestion in relation to various medical conditions. She said she cannot support an application that allows medical advice to be provided by nonmedical personnel.

Lekach and Romano said they will work to find an acceptable solution. The hearing was continued to June 21, to give the foundation time to complete the manual and address Dr. Walsh Condon's concerns.

July 8, 2017: Towns go slow on pot, with Arlington's move among the symbolic 
Cambridge Day, Feb. 17: Medical marijuana dispensary opens soon, welcoming patients after a ‘tough’ process 
Cambridge Day, Feb. 7, 2017: Medical marijuana dispensary zoning OK'd with recreational pot looming as a concern
Globe, March 9: Harvard Square medical marijuana dispensary gets closer to reality
Globe, March 7: If Trump cracks down on pot, where does that leave Mass.?
Nov. 8, 2016: Redevelopment Board approves medical-marijuana dispensary

This news summary was published Wednesday, July 12, 2017, and updated July 14.