East Coast Remedies recreational cannabis dispensary has not yet received its Somerville license and some residents have concerns.
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Although two of the three recreational pharmacies that have received a host community agreement were licensed in November, the licensing commission has not yet approved a license for East Coast Remedies in Spring Hill, to review extensive community feedback.
Over a dozen people testified about the application at the license commission hearing on February 10, and many more provided written comments online. The comments included general support for applicant Gladys Vega and the pharmacy, but also concerns about the location near a residential area and how it works for parking, security, queues and appointments.
According to the East Coast Remedies (ECR) Host Community Agreement (HCA), Vega is president and 51% owner. This makes her the only applicant for economic empowerment and a pharmacy run by minority women that has been granted an HCA in the city. Vega grew up in Chelsea – one of the Massachusetts communities hardest hit by the war on drugs, according to the Cannabis Control Commission – and was executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative for 15 years after working her way up from a receptionist position.
“I have personally seen the negative effects of illicit drug use and trafficking,” she said. “I’ve seen it firsthand – the violence, the abuse and the arrests, and in 1993 the war on drugs claimed my only brother’s life. I have seen hundreds, or friends and neighbors, who have had similar problems in our community. “
Vegas’ goal is not just to make money, but to partner with the community, work with families in need, and even create a Somerville version of the Chelsea Collaborative. She said her proposal will create 15 to 20 local jobs that pay a living wage and require customers to sign a commitment card that promises respect for the product and the neighborhood.
I [have] Proven experience addressing socio-economic challenges – I am one of those challenges – and I have significant experience running a business in a low-income community, ”she said. “I was part of [rebuilding my community] not because I was invited to the table, but because I forced myself to [space] because I knew from a young age that economic empowerment meant that I had to be able to make decisions, whether invited or not. “
Leah Piantidosi of North Andover is the treasurer of ECR and has experience in the spirits industry. Thomas Mourmouras of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, is the ECR secretary and owns two medical dispensaries in Maine. Their ownership interests are currently unclear.
ECR applies for the opening of a 1,900 square meter recreational cannabis pharmacy at 76-82 Central St, which has 50 vehicle parking spaces and numerous bicycle parking spaces.
“Demand in Somerville called us to be here. Residents are strongly in favor of the legal use of marijuana by adults, and nowhere is that sentiment stronger than in Ward 3 and Ward 5,” Piantidosi said. “Across town, Somerville voted to approve marijuana use for adults at 75% and for Ward 3 and 5 at 77% even higher. Gladys and I want to be here – a pharmacy in the neighborhood. “
The commercial building and two nearby parking lots are owned by a Rich DiGirolomo trust. Dunkin Donuts, ONCE Ballroom and O’Brian’s Liquors are already in the building. The pharmacy will displace four small businesses along Central Street: Razor Right Barbershop, Women’s Clothing and Folk Art, mghightech School of Technology, and Lash Live Studio.
Vega is represented by Anne Vigorito, a lawyer with the DiGirolomo law firm. Vega is a member of the Chelsea Licensing Board and stated that she has never voted for a project with Vigorito or DiGirolomo.
After two community meetings, ECR made several changes to their original proposal. Suggested hours are now 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday to avoid busy times on Highland Avenue and Central Street and to avoid disrupting neighboring business. The proposal calls for customer visits by appointment only: residents are incentivized to walk or use public transport, and those arriving by car are required to park in the Highland Avenue parking lot. This property is fenced in and managed by a parking attendant who leads these cars to designated spaces.
The full ECR presentation video is available online at this YouTube link or at www.somervillema.gov/departments/licensing-commission under “Agenda and Minutes”.
Gibbons Street resident and indignant Kate Dyson, who had also made a written comment, wanted ECR to clarify the visitor guidelines for appointments only.
“We heard tonight that ECR is by appointment only, but we also heard that ECR is appointment-based at this point,” said Dyson. “It is completely unclear to me what your plan for the future is, whether he wants to stay on schedule or hopes to become a point of contact at some point.”
Dyson wasn’t the only one – several residents expressed their support on the condition that the pharmacy could still be appointed indefinitely – only indefinitely as they were near a dense residential area. By comparison, the other two recreational dispensaries – Union Leaf in Union Square and NorthEast Select Harvest in Davis Square – have only been approved for licenses for appointments that are canceled after the first six months. However, Union Leaf and NESH are more likely to be in business districts where ECR is in a business corridor of a residential area.
Station 3 city councilor Ben Ewen-Campen made three recommendations, including granting the ECR license perpetual by agreement. If things were to change in the future, he suggested that the applicant could come before the Commission to provide data on why the restriction should be lifted and that the Commission could again hear feedback from neighbors.
“When this pharmacy is ‘by appointment only’ it addresses almost every major issue that has been raised – no queues outside of the store and a steady, regular flow of traffic,” he said. “However, if this automatically goes under after six months, there is a real chance that concerns about lines, congestion, and traffic safety will be proven right. … I think the most important way is to create this place “by appointment only” for an indefinite period of time to allay neighbors’ concerns. “
Unless the Commission determines otherwise, the deadline for public comments remains open and the point continued until the next Commission meeting on 16 March.