MA: As Medical Marijuana Nears Reality, Selectmen Consider Rules

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West Tisbury selectmen are considering how to word a so-called host community agreement with the owner of the first medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation facility on the Island — and whether to extract fees from the company.

Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard, owned by Island businessman Geoff Rose, is gearing up to grow medical marijuana in a facility off Old Stage Road and dispense it for medical purposes at a separate location on State Road, beginning early next year. Mr. Rose has cleared all the regulatory hurdles to date for licensing and permits from the state, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the town for the facilities.

But under state law, the town is also required to a craft what is termed a host community agreement with the owner of the new facility, town administrator Jennifer Rand told the selectmen last week.

She said some communities have used host agreements to require medical marijuana dispensaries and producers to pay extra impact fees.

“I have yet to find a community that does not have a financial impact payment,” Ms. Rand told the selectmen at their regular Wednesday meeting.

Selectmen visited the issue earlier this month, reading examples of host community agreements from other towns including Salisbury and Douglas.

Both those towns have host agreements with medical marijuana facilities. In Salisbury the dispensary group Alternative Therapies is required to pay the town 1.25 per cent of the first year’s gross sales revenue in addition to two separate payments of $50,000. In subsequent years, the fee goes up to at least 2.5 per cent of gross sales. The agreement runs for five years. The fees are intended to help defray anticipated added costs for law enforcement, fire protection and inspections, among other things, according to the agreement.

In Douglas, the host town agreement with the cultivation facility Medicinal Alternatives Inc. calls for an annual fee of at least $100,000 plus additional funds to help pay for a new ambulance.

The selectmen are scheduled to continued the discussion at their Wednesday meeting this week.

But last week two of the three board members were initially hesitant about singling out the West Tisbury operation before it opens and its impacts can be measured.

“Why should they pay a fee different than any other business in town?” said board chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd. “I feel uncomfortable assessing a financial impact fee not knowing what the impact was.”

Selectman Kent Healy echoed the concerns.

Mr. Rose did not attend the meeting, but reached by telephone later he expressed surprise and said he believed host community agreements are only required for recreational marijuana facilities, not medical marijuana.

“That’s all I know about host agreements, and at this point we have a license for medical marijuana,” Mr. Rose said.

With the new state marijuana law still in its infancy, the rules for crafting the agreement are not completely clear at the state level.

While state law spells out clearly that towns should sign host agreements with medical marijuana dispensaries, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, the agency currently in charge of regulating medical marijuana, told the Gazette last week that the agreement isn’t required.

“Under the current medical use of marijuana regulations, an RMD [Registered Marijuana Dispensary] applicant does not need a host community agreement with the community where it will be located,” department spokesman Marybeth McCabe said in an email.

A representative from the state Cannabis Control Commission confirmed that the DPH handles regulations for medical marijuana, at least for now.

“At this time we don’t have control over medical marijuana,” commission spokesman Cedric Sinclair said. “That will change in the future but right now we cannot set regulatory actions for that program.”

Medical marijuana regulations are expected to be under the commission’s purview eventually. The Cannabis Control Commission has to make plan to transfer those responsibilities by Dec. 31, 2018 at the latest, right around the time Mr. Rose hopes to be opening up shop at his dispensary in West Tisbury. He said he plans to begin cultivation before that.

Meanwhile, last week selectmen agreed to consult with their town counsel and discussed contracting with an additional firm that specializes in marijuana law.

And selectman Cynthia Mitchell didn’t mince words about the challenge of being the Island’s pioneers in marijuana regulations.

“This is a different category of business,” she said. “I feel like we’re babes in the woods here, frankly. And I don’t want to just sort of skip around it and slap something together with a minimal basis of knowledge about why you fashion such an agreement.”