By Sue Ellen Woodcock
Despite impassioned pleas from residents of all ages and backgrounds not to bring medical marijuana to Revere, the majority of the Revere City Council granted a special permit to the Wellness Connection of Massachusetts (WCM) to operate a facility on Railroad Street.
As pointed out by Zoning Subcommittee chair Stephen Reardon, the issue before the council was a zoning issue and not one that argues the pros and cons of medical marijuana. The discussion went on for an hour and a half before a vote was taken by the full council. Councillors Joanne McKenna and Steven Morabito voted against the special permit.
McKenna said she was not against medical marijuana but did not think Revere was the place to put a dispensary.
“As a former educator and losing 32 students to the opioid epidemic that wasn’t visible two years ago, I’m voting no,” McKenna said, with huge applause following.
“We cannot out zone a medical marijuana facility,” Reardon said. “This is strictly a zoning issue. There will be legal action if the (decision is based on whether you like or dislike medical marijuana.)”
“It’s not what the people want,” said Morabito.
“This is the proper place. There’s no other place for it to go in the city,” said Councillor Anthony Zambuto. “I have every confidence it will be run like a medical facility.”
Several times during the meeting people said they did not want to hear “only in Revere” again.
The next step for WCM is to obtain a license from the state Department of Public Health. So far, that process is in stage two, said attorney Lawrence Simeone Jr., who represents WCM. Although he does not represent the licensing portion of the business, he said stage three would include a site plan review. Only five licenses can be granted in each county. Suffolk County already has one for the city of Boston.
In Essex County there is one for the city of Salem, which now has a functioning dispensary.
Councillor and Mayor-elect Brian Arrigo said in his new role as mayor he would seek a host city agreement and mitigation if the facility comes to fruition. Simeone agreed that one could be negotiated.
Plans call for the medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) to operate within two commercial structures on Railroad Street. The facility would include a 1,000 sq. ft. counseling space, a 1,500 sq. ft. retail center, an office/business area of roughly 2,000 sq. ft. and an approximate 39,200 sq. ft. growing area.
The land for which the dispensery would be placed on is owned by Gunnar Holdings, LCC, of 30 Railroad St., Revere.
WCM is the group was formerly known as Boston Wellness Associates Inc., and received a special permit from the city council on Dec. 17, 2013 but did not open a business because it did not receive a permit from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Simeone showed a 10-minute video touring inside the Wellness Connection of Maine. Patients and employees were interviewed, and an inside look at the growing and processing center was given. There are 6,000 clients there and four dispensaries. They use the entire cannabis plant to produce tinctures, topicals, edibles and smokeables.
The company has reorganized with different officers than in 2013. This time, the officers of the nonprofit corporation are John P. Henry, president, and a Plympton selectman; Elizabeth P. Jones, an officer of WCM, of Middleton; Kathleen Donovan, clerk, of Arlington. Former Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis is the security expert WCM is using.
Henry is the former president of Ocean Spray. Donovan is the former superintendent of schools in Arlington and York, ME. Jones recently retired from Everett Co-operative Bank.
The council chambers were packed with representatives of the Beachmont Improvement Association, School Committee, religious leaders, RevereCares and concerned residents. Some people showed up with signs that said, “No Dispensary” with a “thumbs down” sign. Others had “Say No to Drugs” signs.
“The question here is whether or not this fits into the zoning,” Simeone said. “The issue before this board is not whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug. We could debate this as long as you have a few council meetings.”
He added that the building owners have invested hundreds of thousands dollar to clean up the site.
“There have been 1,000 deaths due to aspirin,” Donovan said. “Not one related to medical marijuana.”
The special permit also comes with several conditions, including a 400-foot radius to be away from places like schools, 88 painted parking spaces, a traffic plan, low profile signage, 10-foot security fences and gates, lighting, security cameras, and a final site plan review by the fire department.
Donovan added that WCM is willing to work with any educational group or community group such as RevereCares, which submitted over 200 signatures opposing the dispensary.
Resident Adrianne Maguire was miffed that those involved in backing the facility find Revere suitable for a dispensary but “they don’t find the city desirable enough to live in.” Huge applause followed.
School Committee member and former Superintendent of Schools Carol Tye said she worries about sending kids the wrong message and the impact on a successful school system.
“I really don’t want to listen to our friends from Arlington,” Tye said. “I’m sick of hearing ‘only in Revere.’
Priscilla Nickerson said she is not against marijuana for cancer patients, but she would like to see medical marijuana dispensed through a hospital or pharmacy.
“I have three friends with cancer, including my husband, and they don’t want it. I don’t see the positive in this.”
One teen named Joseph from Revere High School said, “we’re moving forward at Revere High School and I don’t want to see it go backwards. I believe in the power of no.”
“What are we saying about our community, our city, ‘come for the marijuana, stay for the opiates,” said Rev. Tim Bogartman.