Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jul 2018 Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA) Copyright: 2018 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Contact: http://www.telegram.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/509 Author: Nick Kotsopoulos WORCESTER BANKS ON POTENTIAL REVENUE FROM ADULT-USE, MEDICAL MARIJUANA BUSINESSES WORCESTER - Moments after the Board of Health unanimously voted Monday night to issue the city's first license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary, many of those in attendance began to applaud. It was a modest celebration of sorts - for the representatives of Good Chemistry of Massachusetts Inc., which was awarded the first license, public health officials and members of the Board of Health - as it culminated what was a long process that began more than 5= years ago. Soon after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum question in 2012 to legalize marijuana for medical use, Good Chemistry began scoping out potential sites for a dispensary in the city. The company found a suitable storefront site at 9 Harrison St. in the Canal District and signed a lease for it - a lease it has been paying on for the past five years. It was also one of four companies that negotiated a community host agreement with the city a couple of years ago to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Worcester. Good Chemistry has gone through a rigorous review process with the state Department of Public Health and then received a license to operate from the Board of Health. Good Chemistry said it received from the state on Thursday a notice of approval for the medical marijuana license and plans to officially open its dispensary on Aug. 2. "It's been a long process," said Matthew Huron, chief executive officer of Good Chemistry. "We are happy to finally reach the point where we are now getting ready to open. We're excited about it and we intend to become an active member of Worcester's business community and a good neighbor." The three other companies that signed community host agreements with the city for medical marijuana still have to go before the Board of Health for their licenses, but when that might happen remains unclear. The other planned medical marijuana facilities are at 0 Pullman St. (dispensary), 640 Lincoln St. (dispensary and cultivation) and 1191 Millbury St. (dispensary and packaging). What has delayed things, however, is those applicants' interest to also get involved in what is expected to be the very lucrative adult-use recreational marijuana industry, according to city officials. In 2016, Massachusetts voters passed a referendum to legalize the cultivation, sale and use of recreational marijuana by a margin of 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent. In Worcester, the referendum question was supported by 55 percent of the voters and opposed by 45 percent. But like the licensing of medical marijuana facilities, the process for licensing adult-use dispensaries and related marijuana businesses is not expected to happen overnight. Mr. Huron said Good Chemistry also intends to seek a license for the sale of adult-use marijuana. But because the regulatory process could be a long one, it decided not to delay the opening of its medical marijuana dispensary. "It looks like that could be a long process as well and we plan to apply for an adult-use license later this year as the process evolves," he said. Meanwhile, the attention at City Hall is now shifting to the adult-use marijuana, and city officials are gearing up for what could be a very busy and potentially lucrative industry. Earlier this month, the city issued a Request for Interest to prospective marijuana establishment operators. Mike Vigneux, media relations specialist for the city, said the local process will allow for a uniform approach to reviewing the application of parties seeking to operate a marijuana establishment in the city. As part of the state law and regulations, Worcester is required to facilitate the establishment of up to 15 regulated marijuana retailers. That figure is based on 20 percent of the number of off-premises alcohol licenses the city is authorized to issue. Meanwhile, there is no cap on other types of marijuana establishments, including cultivators and independent testing laboratories, product manufacturers, research facilities, transporters and microbusinesses. Just as the city has an internal department review team that handles medical marijuana applications, it has established a Cannabis Review Committee, which will be responsible for reviewing materials submitted by applicants. Mr. Vigneux said selected applicants will then be invited to negotiate a community host agreement. Certification of a signed community host agreement is a requirement of the state Cannabis Control Commission's licensing process, as well as a requirement to receive a special permit from the city's Planning Board. "The city will review applications based on factors including location, capacity to meet city and state licensure and regulatory requirements, diversity of applicants including status as an Economic Empowerment Applicant, and feedback from the mandatory community outreach meeting," Mr. Vigneux said. The adult-use marijuana picture should come into sharper focus before the end of next month. The deadline the city has set for parties to respond to the Request for Interest is Aug. 24. But given the fact that several area communities have either voted to either ban the sale of adult-use marijuana or have imposed temporary moratoriums, many believe that Worcester could become a magnet for the marijuana business. While the city has not yet formally fielded any proposals, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said many people have already been knocking on the city's door. "We've already received substantial interest from prospective marijuana establishment operators about the possibility of setting up businesses in Worcester," Mr. Augustus said. "People are asking questions and we've been fielding a lot of phone calls." Meanwhile, at least one local company was among more than two dozen in the state granted a priority review by the CCC as so-called "economic empowerment" applicants. New Dia (Diversity-in-action) was among the first nine awarded priority certification under that designation back in April. The CCC gives priority status to those eligible to be designated as economic empowerment applicants, a designation that is intended to support licensees from communities and areas disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration related to marijuana-related crimes. After receiving priority review, priority applicants are subject to the same requirements as all other applicants. For its part, the city has taken a methodical approach to preparing for the adult-use marijuana industry. Mr. Augustus said the city's goal has been to welcome the fledgling industry in a "strong and thoughtful way," while also imposing "time, place and manner" restrictions on the operation of those businesses. The first thing Mr. Augustus and the City Council did was to put into a place a series of zoning regulations governing the siting of such facilities. Mr. Augustus said the city has the responsibility to provide adequate opportunities for locating legal marijuana establishments, but at the same time it must ensure that such uses are not overly concentrated in any single area. Under the regulations that have been adopted by the City Council, adult-use marijuana retail stores, cultivators, manufacturers and related businesses are banned from all residential-zoned areas and are precluded from being located within 500 feet of schools, public parks, playgrounds, licensed day care centers and public libraries. Recreational marijuana establishments will only be allowed by special permit in areas zoned for manufacturing and business uses, as well as in Institutional-Hospital zones and in the Airport zone, which includes the industrial park next to Worcester Regional Airport. The regulations also call for a 500-foot buffer - roughly the length of two city blocks - between the locations of marijuana retail stores to prevent them from clustering in certain parts of the city. The buffer will not pertain, however, to businesses that do not operate as storefronts, such as product manufacturers, testing labs and research facilities. While the state CCC is the body responsible for issuing licenses to marijuana-related businesses, the city has also put into place a local review process that includes the Planning Board and License Commission. The special permit for such businesses will be issued by the Planning Board, which will be charged with reviewing the appropriateness of each proposed site. City Solicitor David M. Moore said the process will allow people to be notified about proposed adult-use marijuana establishments and provide an opportunity for public comment. The Planning Board will also be able to set conditions in regard to the operations of those businesses. A license to operate must also be obtained from the License Commission. The city is looking to also reap some financial benefits from allowing marijuana-related businesses to set up shop in Worcester. For example, in each of the four community host agreements the city has negotiated, each dispensary operator will pay the city $450,000 in their first three years of operations, plus an escalating percentage of gross sales with annual payments continuing into the foreseeable future. The city will also likely be seeking annual payments from adult-use marijuana operators as part of their community host agreements. In addition, the city will be assessing a 3 percent local tax on marijuana sales. As part of this fiscal year's municipal budget, which took effect July 1, the city is anticipating the receipt of $1.1 million in revenues from medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana sales and host agreements. Mr. Augustus is using $140,000 of that money to fill in funding gaps created by expired public health grants. He has also dedicated $200,000 of it for Recreation Worcester - five after-school and 10 summer parks programs. He wants to also expand the summer program to three additional park sites with programs that are geared more to older kids. In addition, Mr. Augustus is using $40,000 in anticipated marijuana revenues to fund an enhanced aquatics program at the Crompton Park municipal pools. The program is providing about 200 kids with swimming lessons over five weeks this summer.