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Pittsfield Offers Letter of Non-Opposition for Marijuana Dispensaries

Jim Levulis

The city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is making a letter of non-opposition available to any medical marijuana dispensary looking to settle within city limits.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved the generic letter, which says the city is not opposed to being the home of a licensed medical marijuana dispensary. The availability of the letter comes as applications for Phase 2 of the state’s Department of Public Health licensing process are due on November 21. Julia Germaine is the Director of Resources for Manna Wellness, a group looking to open a dispensary a couple of miles from downtown Pittsfield along a public access route.

“The Department of Public Health Phase 2 application is compromised of many complex parts,” Germaine said. “The most significant compromising about 40 percent of the available points is municipality reception.”

Manna has been reaching out to city government and the public since April, meeting with community developers and holding open forums on its plans. Citing its outreach, Councilor Churchill Cotton proposed tailoring a unique letter for Manna to include in its application, while Councilor Melissa Mazzeo says a generic letter shows no favoritism on the city’s behalf. Germaine says the generic letter is sufficient, but was hoping for more.

“Our concern is that the letter might not reflect the work that Manna has specifically done and has been doing and will continue to do in community,” said Germaine.

Germaine says Manna is looking at other areas in Berkshire County, but Pittsfield is its top choice due to the accessibility of an estimated 3,200 patients. Dispensaries can begin the special permitting process through the city before being granted a license from the state, but none have done so. There are only three groups currently in Phase 2 that have a proposed site in Berkshire County, but organizations do have the option to change their site location during the application process.

The two other groups in contact with the city are Total Health and Wellness, Inc., whose application proposes sites in Essex and Worcester counties and Baystate Alternative Health Care Inc, whose Phase 2 application proposes dispensaries in Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties. President Robert Carp says Baystate Alternative Health Care is still looking at sites across western Massachusetts that will be released publicly next week, but has also found one on Merrill Road in Pittsfield.

“We found a vacant Burger King that has a drive thru which would make patient accessibility tremendous,” said Carp.

In May, the state’s Department of Public Health set final regulations that would allow 35 dispensaries in the commonwealth, setting a maximum cap of five in each of its 14 counties. In all, 158 applications are currently in Phase 2 of the three-part process to be certified by the state starting in January 2014. About a third of the state’s municipalities have put moratoriums on medical marijuana facilities in place, with Springfield being the largest so far. In June, a zoning ordinance in Pittsfield capped the number of allowed dispensaries at three within city limits.

“It is the law,” Bianchi said. “It is intended to help people with medical issues. So if we have a well-functioning center and It’s in a place that is zoned properly it can be an enhancement to a community, not a determent.”

Carp says his organization has had preliminary talks with the city of Pittsfield and will include the letter of non-opposition in its Phase 2 application.

“There are so many moratoriums in place any time someone finds a free building you’ll find a dozen people trying to get the building under a letter of intent,” said Carp.

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