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Mayor Walsh says he aims to block dispensaries

Urges state to reject applications with errors

Mayor Martin J. Walsh moved this week to stymie the opening of two medical marijuana dispensaries in Boston, voicing his toughest opposition so far at a forum in Dorchester and firing off a letter to state officials urging swift action if inaccuracies are found in the companies’ applications.

“I am writing to express my serious concern regarding the two registered marijuana dispensary applicants in the city of Boston,’’ the mayor wrote in a letter dated Tuesday that was addressed to the state’s secretary of health and human services, John Polanowicz, and the executive director of the state’s medical marijuana program, Karen Van Unen.

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Walsh said questions have been raised about the two companies, Green Heart Holistic Health & Pharmaceuticals Inc., which is eyeing a 3,000-square-foot dispensary at 70 Southampton St., and Good Chemistry of Massachusetts Inc., which has planned a store on Boylston Street.

He noted that the state is assessing the veracity of dispensary applications and urged “swift and uniform action” if inaccuracies are found, saying that would reaffirm confidence in the regulatory process.

“If any information provided in either application is confirmed to be inaccurate, I ask that the Department of Public Health immediately eliminate that application from being eligible for a final certification of registration,’’ Walsh wrote.

A state health and human services spokeswoman did not return repeated calls for comment Tuesday.

The letter follows public comments Walsh made during a community presentation Monday. The mayor said he is “dead set” against marijuana dispensaries, has long opposed medical marijuana laws, and would prevent stores in Boston that sell cannabis.

‘Well, I’m dead set against legalizing marijuana. I was dead set against the marijuana dispensaries, and I was dead set against all the marijuana laws.’

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“I have made it very clear to the state that I don’t want these dispensaries in our city,’’ Walsh told about 200 people at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, a small wooden house of worship on a corner of Humboldt Avenue, in a neighborhood where opposition to the marijuana dispensaries is fierce.

But Walsh probably faces an uphill battle to stop the shops, analysts said. With a voter-
approved law establishing the dispensaries and a state licensing process underway, Walsh might be able to stall the process by using the city’s zoning laws, but ultimately would have little power to permanently ban the stores, said Jeffrey M. Berry, a Tufts University political science professor.

“I don’t see a clear power to prevent these stores,’’ Berry said. “But certainly the thing the mayor can do is to delay this and make their lives miserable.”

Walsh made his comments months after the city’s Board of Health finalized regulations in November ensuring local oversight of the dispensaries.

The Boston Public Health Commission has remained neutral about the planned dispensaries, which have come under fire in some communities.

“I think Mayor Walsh has voiced some concerns about the application process,’’ said Nick Martin, spokesman for the Health Commission. “Our role has been and will be to provide local oversight if and when the dispensaries open in Boston.”

The city regulations give the Health Commission authority to grant operating permits for dispensaries, conduct three inspections annually, and have control over patient educational materials on substance abuse prevention. Dispensary owners are required to have annual community meetings.

Voters approved a November 2012 ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for medical treatment, and the measure allowed for an open marketplace to support cannabis for health purposes.

Under the law, the state can pick up to 35 nonprofit companies to open dispensaries in Massachusetts.

In January, the state’s Department of Public Health gave preliminary approval for companies to get the first 20 licenses to operate medical marijuana stores, including two in Boston.

Representatives from Green Heart Holistic Health & Pharmaceuticals and Good Chemistry of Massachusetts could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Good Chemistry, which had planned a store on Boylston Street, is considering a new location after facing a public backlash over opening a dispensary in the Back Bay.

The Globe also reported that the company provided misleading information to state regulators in its license application, erroneously claiming to have support from state lawmakers and the district’s city councilor.

The two companies have not applied for required permits from the city’s Health Commission, said Martin, the commission spokesman.

Matthew Allen, executive director of the prodispensary Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, urged quick implementation of the dispensary licenses, saying that any delay causes needless suffering for patients.

“A more sensible and compassionate approach than eliminating the Boston applicants at this point,” he said, “would be for the city to work with dispensary operators and community members to address concerns through ongoing collaboration, community engagement, and regulation,’’ Allen said.

In Dorchester this week, Walsh made his comments during a question-and-answer period at the end of his presentation at Pleasant Hill Baptist.

The Rev. Miniard Culpepper, the church’s pastor, read aloud questions from those in attendance that had been written on white strips of paper.

One person asked the mayor how the city can reduce drug dealing and violence while also legalizing marijuana.

“Well, I’m dead set against legalizing marijuana,’’ Walsh responded. “I was dead set against the marijuana dispensaries, and I was dead set against all the marijuana laws because they are dangerous.”

The mayor said he believes that marijuana is a gateway to other drugs, saying he watched many of his friends who had “started smoking weed’’ go on to harder drugs.

“I fought them my entire career up on Beacon Hill, and I will fight them as mayor of the city of Boston,’’ Walsh said.

Culpepper pressed Walsh for assurance that he would block the stores.

“You are going to work with us to make sure they don’t get here,’’ Culpepper said, looking at the mayor.

“Trust me,’’ Walsh responded. “You will be working with me to make sure they don’t get here.”

The audience applauded.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.
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