Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jul 2018
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Author: Nick Kotsopoulos


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

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

"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

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

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

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.