GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 10, 2013

Med pot hopefuls eyeing Essex

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — Two applicants seeking to develop and build facilities that would legally cultivate and dispense marijuana for medicinal purposes under the new state law have their sights on locations within Essex, where town officials are sorting out the permitting process to deal with any such proposals.

One is Jonathan Napoli of Boston, owner of Boston Gardener — a hydroponic cultivation store that sells special lights, fertilizer, soil and other growing goods, and of Hempest, a Boston-based business that sells clothes, handbags and other accessories made of hemp. His first store opened in 1995, and there are now four locations.

He is now launching a new company called Planting Hope Inc., and he said Wednesday that he is considering a spot in Essex for a cultivation center.

Napoli did not disclose where in Essex that Planting Hope was looking to sow its seeds but said that a cultivation center would be less intrusive than other projects being considered for the same site.

“It’s only going to bring jobs and economic growth to the area,” Napoli said.

Meanwhile, filings with the Secretary of State show that a company called Medicinal Evolution, based in Peabody, is seeking to site a medical marijuana facility, and CEO Brandon Tarricone said Essex is one of 10 towns being considered in his firm’s medical marijuana manufacturing plans.

He said the site would be about 15,000 square feet and employ 25 people at first.

He said those potential jobs and other factors would remain local.

“One of our big concerns is our competitors are coming from out of town and out of state,” he said.

Medicinal Evolution has only applied for a license in Essex County, while Planting Hope also has applications in for Barnstable and Suffolk counties, according to a list of phase one applicants from the state Department of Public Health.

“Essex has a couple of buildings that could potentially work for this,” Tarricone said.

These two companies have made it into Phase 2 of the application process for Essex County; Phase 2 applications are only accepted from those who passed the Phase 1 process by the state’s Department of Public Health.

These applications will be evaluated by a selection committee and scored on factors such as health needs of patients and appropriateness of the site. An informal meeting is taking place today in Somerville with Phase 2 applicants, according to Anne Roach, media relations manager for the state DPH.

The medical marijuana dispensary ballot question passed last year allows at least one, but no more than five, nonprofit medicinal marijuana center per county, for a maximum of 35 statewide.

Meanwhile, the town’s Planning Board will be holding a public hearing about a bylaw addition that defines a medical marijuana treatment center/dispensary.

The hearing on a proposed Town Meeting article is set for on Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. at Essex Elementary School; town officials are seeking to bring the measure before voters during the Special Town Meeting slated for Nov. 18.

The proposed warrant article defines a medical marijuana treatment center or dispensary as any place that “acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes ..., transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies or educational materials to registered qualifying patients or their personal caregivers.”

Essex police Chief Peter Silva said he does have concerns about the medicinal marijuana talks.

“Do I have safety concerns? I absolutely have safety concerns,” he said.

Silva cited some statements by medical professionals that have claimed marijuana has no medical benefits. Silva said he also has security concerns about the amount of marijuana being handled at an Essex facility.

At the same time, he added, “Who are we to stop (patients from) getting any treatment?”

“I am very confident we will do the right thing within the confines in law to look at the new issues,” he said.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.