Fitchburg Takes Its Pot Shots at Firms
FITCHBURG -- As the city moves full-steam ahead to process applications for cannabis businesses eyeing Fitchburg, residents at a standing-room only meeting said they want officials to pump the brakes.
“I don’t want to see any more availability of marijuana in Fitchburg... I’ve seen first hand the devastation marijuana plays on the brain, particularly a developing brain,” said Mark Rollo, a Fitchburg-based medical doctor who practices family medicine. “I say, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
Clergy members, city officials, residents and others voiced their concerns about the effects of expanding existing cannabis cultivators and permitting retail would have on the community at a Planning Board meeting Tuesday.
Public safety, health and welfare was on the minds of cannabis critics.
“I don’t know if I’m the only one who finds this egregious and unconscionable and absurd that Fitchburg’s beautiful, and I know that there’s a little bit of a drug problem and now were talking about opening up a store to sell drugs?” said resident Dan Cunningham.
Four cannabis companies, Revolutionary Growers (formerly CAS Foundation), Garden Remedies, Colonial Cannabis Co., and Native Sun Wellness. and Colonial Cannabis Co. sought site plan approval or a special permit.
A representative of the only company whose proposed retail establishment was heard Tuesday, Jack Carney, the manager of Green Era LLC, a Washington state-based company that wants to open the shop at Water City Plaza, was grilled by planning officials and the public.
Planning officials requested more detailed site plans to review at an upcoming meeting in September, and questioned how the all-cash business would deal with security inside the store and in the parking lot.
Carney agreed to return to the board with more specific documents outlining compliance with certain zoning regulations, traffic patterns, and security plans.
In public comment, Dennis A. Bradley, pastor at New Life Spanish Christian Church, asked Carney why his company proposed the location for a recreational-only retail cannabis establishment at 143-145 Water St.
“We’re looking to open locations where they’re permissible and we found this was a permissible location,” said Carney.
In response, Bradley said, “It’s an area where we have a lot of Latinos and blacks and poor whites coming to that location... we need to find a place where we don’t have our people, minority people, coming home everyday and seeing this traffic coming in and out of this facility, there’s going to be a problem.”
When pressed later on the issue by City Councilor Paul Beauchemin, Carney said the company did not look at neighborhood demographics when selecting the location.
“No we didn’t look at that,” he said.
Planning Board Chair Paula Caron said Colonial Cannabis Co. should assess whether a crosswalk or electronic crossing sign will be needed on Water Street to increase pedestrian safety between the Plaza and Market Basket.
Colonial Cannabis Company’s public hearing was continued until a hearing in early September.
Another pastor, George Small, from Horizon Christian Fellowship, said findings in Colorado, among the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, show an increase in youth consumption and driving under the influence of marijuana.
“Colorado tells us our kids are going to be first-time users.” he said.
Planning Board members at several points said they are not allowed to deny an application if it adheres to the ordinance passed by the City Council.
“At the same time,” responded Small, who also noted the Water Street outfit’s proximity to St. Anthony School, “We have to do what we have to do to protect our people, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Carney said his security plan includes cameras and an employee that will monitor the parking lot to prevent consumption from happening there.
Planning Board member Andrew Van Hazinga noted that the location is in a “high traffic area,” and member Paul Fontaine Jr said it is a new building that the company can personalize.
In response to a question from Beauchemin, on how the company would ensure a customer buys only the 1 once of marijuana per day allowable under state law, Carney said “it’s something that’s difficult to monitor.”
“We don’t store people’s information, we’re just checking to make sure their ID is valid,” he said of the lack of ability to track individual customer’s purchases without their consent.
The Planning Board also unanimously approved site plans of two existing medical marijuana cultivation and processing companies to begin growing cannabis for recreational consumption, too.
Michael Hurley was absent, and Associate member Amanda Koeck was present.
The site plan approved Tuesday will allow Revolutionary Growers expand production to include recreational plants, too, at its currently operational facility at 1 Oak Hill Road. The company has no plans to open a retail operation in Fitchburg, representatives said.
Garden Remedies, the company that operates a medical marijuana cultivation center at 307 Airport Road, was unanimously granted site plan approval to begin growing recreational marijuana at the same facility.