By John Lynds
Despite chants from medical marijuana advocates at Monday night’s Orient Heights Neighborhood Council (OHNC) meeting, the group voted 29 to 15 against the proposal to place a medical marijuana dispensary on McClellan Highway in East Boston.
Newton based Happy Valley Ventures LLC is pitching a medical marijuana dispensary at 220 McClellan Highway. The address is the same address of a failed medical marijuana dispensary pitched in 2014 that did not receive Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) approval.
The heated meeting included several medical marijuana advocates trying to sway residents’ opinion of the taboo plant that is still illegal federally but approved for medical and recreational use in several states including Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance Executive Director Nichole Snow tried unsuccessfully to sway the public opinion of medical marijuana. She said that since medical marijuana was legalized in 2012 in the state her group has been fighting for access. While a lot of people think when the law went into affect medical marijuana patients had instant access but Snow again pointed out that her group has been fighting for four years to get more dispensaries to open in the state. Snow said since the law went into affect there have been only six dispensaries open in the entire state to serve the 35,000 patients with medical marijuana identification cards.
“I have spent years as a patient advocate and this is an alternative to some pain medications for serious conditions that is far less addictive than currently available opiates,” she said. “There is one other location in Boston on Milk Street but it is really not a good option for patients on this side of the tunnel and the North Shore. There is no parking and the only real access is via public transportation. Some one with ALS or a senior or an AIDS patient are some of the 35,000 registered patients that are waiting for main stream access and the ability to go to a safe location for their medicine.”
Kris Kane, who is helping Happy Valley set up the Eastie location and has experience with medical marijuana facilities in other states, said the plan is to create a state of the art, high tech 7,500 sq. ft. medical marijuana facility. According to Reardon, if the DPH signs off on the plans, the facility would create 20 local, good paying jobs and give much needed access to prescription marijuana in the area.
However, while the proposal has the support of residents outside of the OHNC’s jurisdiction and City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who voted to not oppose the location in the City Council last month, others at the meeting said it was not the right fit for the neighborhood.
OHNC members feared that having a dispensary in the neighborhood would lead to increase in crime and drug addiction despite studies in other states showing no correlation between an increase in crime and drug addiction where medical marijuana dispensaries have been established.
Kane said that most wouldn’t oppose a pharmacy opening in their neighborhood despite the fact that a pharmacy has less security and carry far more dangerous drugs like OxyContin.
“This would be a very safe and very secure building because the state mandates that these dispensaries have a top notch security plan before opening.
Others argued that they didn’t feel Eastie should be synonymous with medical marijuana and said it should go elsewhere despite 65 percent of Eastie voters supporting the Medical Marijuana ballot question four years ago.
Others, like OHNC member Mary Berninger said to vote against the proposal would be typical NIMBY (not in my back yard) behavior.
“If it was one of your loved ones suffering from one of these serious conditions i bet more would be open to the idea,” said Berninger. “Sixty-five percent of us supported the ballot question so now this is about creating access and showing some compassion for these individuals that need access.”
Despite OHNC vote, City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he is still a supporter of the proposal. LaMattina cited the applicant’s location as appropriate as well as their security plan.
“Again, the address is away from the residential neighborhood and separated by a four lane highway with plenty of parking,” said LaMattina. “I know people personally who have benefited from this type of alternative medication — one of my dear friends suffers from ALS and this helps her get through the day. We need to start stepping up and helping these patients gain convenient access.
In April, the Ludlow Board of Selectmen signed off on Happy Valley’s plan to begin cultivating medical marijuana for its proposed dispensaries here in Eastie and also in Amherst and Gloucester.
In 2013, the Centers for Alternative Medicine Inc. was one of 100 Medical Marijuana Dispensary applicants after the medical marijuana law was passed. The Centers for Alternative Medicine pitched a facility at the same address as Happy Valley.
However, in 2014 the Centers for Alternative Medicine did not make the final cut once the DPH approved facilities in the area.