The opening of the first medical marijuana dispensary in Springfield – and just the second in all of western Massachusetts – is being delayed as city councilors review the terms under which the proposed facility would operate.
Several city councilors strongly object to an agreement that they believe would allow a medical marijuana dispensary to operate without competition in the city for 10 years.
Mayor Domenic Sarno is asking the city council to approve a host community agreement with Hampden Care Facility Inc. so the Chicopee-based company can proceed with plans to open a retail dispensary for medical marijuana.
The agreement, negotiated by the city administration with representatives of the company, spells out conditions for operating the dispensary including security requirements. It also spells out a schedule of annual payments to the city over the next decade. One clause says the city will not support another firm that seeks to operate a dispensary in Springfield.
" The business terms of the deal seem to be appropriate except for the prohibition for 10 years," said City Council President Mike Fenton.
He said he has reviewed other Massachusetts communities’ agreements with medical marijuana companies and believes Springfield’s is an outlier.
" We do not want to be the only community having that type of lengthy restriction," said Fenton. " One decade is a long time to have just one dispensary."
Fenton said Worcester has negotiated an agreement that permits up to four dispensaries.
City Solicitor Ed Pikula said the agreement with Hampden Care allows the mayor to reopen negotiations if he determines the one dispensary is not meeting the city’s needs. Speaking at a meeting of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, Pikula said the council can suggest changes to the agreement, but cannot amend it unilaterally.
"We feel we've done a really good job. We've put a lot of time into it," said Pikula. " But if there are aspects you are concerned about we can go back to the drawing board. It will involve re-negotiations and more delays in going forward with the project."
Frank Antonucci, a lawyer for Hampden Care, said the 10-year non-compete is important to the company, which will invest almost $2 million in startup costs on the Springfield dispensary.
" We have a business plan. We negotiated in good faith with the city for a lengthy period of time and came up with what we think is the most generous plan in the state with respect to what we are going to do for the city," Antonucci said at the committee meeting.
Councilor Adam Gomez, who chairs the committee, said he hopes to get the agreement before the full city council in mid-August and is mindful that people who need access to medical marijuana are being inconvenienced.
" I wish they were getting it yesterday. I wish the Springfield dispensary was open a year ago. But it is just a fact you have to look at the business side of it," said Gomez.
Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana in 2012, but it has been a slow process to get dispensaries up and running.
The only retail medical marijuana facility in western Massachusetts opened last September in Northampton.