MASS ALTERNATIVE CARE GRANTED PERMIT CHANGE TO ALLOW FOR FUTURE RETAIL MARIJUANA SALES. ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS MEETING (11/14/19)

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Present: Joan O’Meara, Tom Simpson, Aaron Arcello, Sharon Waldman, Steve Judge (Chair)

Marijuana Facility Hearing
Mass Alternative Care, Inc. was granted a modification of its special permit for its existing off-site medical marijuana dispensary, which is located at 55 University Drive (formerly The Hangar), in a “Limited Business” zone. The hearing, which lasted for the full two-hour meeting, concerned use of the same site and owner, to co-locate a recreational marijuana retail store in the former hospice shop immediately to the south.  Since medical marijuana is not taxed, the two functions are separate, with the medical dispensary in the north portion and recreational sales planned for the south segment, with separate guarded entrances. 

Security is very tight at the facilities, officials said..  IDs are checked at least three times before a purchase can be completed : first by a security associate at the door, then by a second security associate inside a secure entry vestibule who scans IDs to verify authenticity, validity, and age. A  third ID check occurs prior to dispensing the product. Upon entry through the secure vestibule, patrons are counted and directed to either the medical or recreational sales areas. First-time patients or caregivers undergo a new patient in-take and orientation session facilitated by a qualified “dispensary agent” and then are directed to the medical sales counter. Patients wait in a designated line until the next dispensary agent is ready to assist them.

Products are delivered in “ready for sale” packaging  to the secure loading area at the back of the building, and all product is stored in a vault monitored by remote access cameras, which digitally record. All product is tracked by software specifically designed to serve marijuana dispensaries.

Lighting for the 28-space parking lot is provided by three 70 watt post-mounted fixtures, two 55 watt building-mounted security lights at the rear service area, and a porch light at each egress. Cameras are installed in the parking lot, and at each of the eight retail cashier stations. The businesses are open for sales between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week. All 16 on-site employees need to be trained according to rules similar to those required of bartenders.

Mass Alternative Care, based in Springfield, owns three retail outlets, in Amherst, Lee, and Chicopee. At the latter,  the recreational dispensary is co-located with cultivation and processing. The company also owns nine medical marijuana dispensaries in Connecticut and five advanced grow labs. It is not known when the local dispensary will open, as this is regulated by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, but arrangements have been made with the Amherst Police Department to monitor the site during the opening days. There are also plans for busing patrons from off-site parking places. 

Other Hearings
The other two hearings on the agenda were continued to a future meeting.  You-Pan Tzeng’s request to eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement at 321 Lincoln Avenue has been continued to Dec. r 12, amid  negotiations over code and bylaw non-compliance issues with the Town.. Thomas Mitchell requested a modification of a special permit which would eliminate the condition that the permit would expire with a change of ownership of his property at 44 Belchertown Road. His case was continued for the second time to January 23.

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