A newly formed nonprofit organization is focusing on Newburyport and the Beverly/Salem area to open medical marijuana dispensaries and has spoken to Georgetown officials about locating a facility to cultivate the plants.
Medicinal Evolution Corp., led by Brandon Tarricone, is looking to open two dispensaries in Essex County. Representatives met with Newbury selectmen last month to discuss locating a dispensary at a business park off Interstate 95 at exit 55.
But the owner of the complex later told selectmen he did not intend to lease the space for that purpose, according to Joseph Story, chairman of the town board.
“He said he doesn’t feel it to be a good fit on his property,” Story said.
Tarricone was set to meet with Georgetown selectmen last Monday to discuss locating a cultivation center in town, but the meeting was postponed for another month in light of residents’ concerns, Tarricone said he was told.
In Beverly, Tarricone said, his group is looking at the Tozier Road and Brimball Avenue area as a possible dispensary location, while in Newburyport it is looking at the area of the city’s industrial park, which runs between Scotland Road (exit 56 off I-95) and Low Street.
Beverly Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr., who has met with Tarricone, said the city may create a zoning ordinance to limit where a dispensary could be.
“There is a state law and these things are going to come, so we are willing to discuss them,” Scanlon said. “We probably want to have some say about where within the community something was located.”
Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said the city enacted a moratorium on dispensaries through next June, by which time it hopes to have an ordinance that limits where they could be located. A task force is spearheading that effort.
“I would prefer personally not to have them located in Newburyport, but I know you” cannot ban them, Holaday said. “So we are trying to work though a whole series of economic, social, and legal issues in determining what makes sense for Newburyport.”
The 2012 ballot law legalizing medical marijuana allows for up to 35 medical marijuana centers, with at least one in each of the state’s 14 counties.
Along with Tarricone, Medicinal Evolution board members are his aunt, Elizabeth Holland, who works in the life sciences industry; Dr. Lester Grinspoon, associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an expert on marijuana use; and Dorion Sagan, best known as a science author.
Sagan’s father, Carl Sagan, the astronomer, educator, and author who died in 1996, was one of the earliest proponents of allowing marijuana for terminally ill patients.
A jazz musician with local roots who returned to Essex County after living in New Orleans, Tarricone, 34,who also has worked in real estate, said he was motivated to get in on the ground floor of a new industry.
“People get so caught up in the politics of whether they think pot is acceptable or not. That really is not the issue,” he said.
“The law is already in effect. These patients who are terminally ill or have serious diseases and know this naturally grown, organic medicine works for them have a right to access it.”
Following the passage of the medical marijuana law last November, many communities have adopted moratoriums on dispensaries or have moved to restrict or ban them because of public safety concerns.
In March, the attorney general’s office struck down a ban in Wakefield that also nullified a decision to keep dispensaries out of Reading.
Tarricone said the state will allow licensees to maintain separate locations for their dispensaries and cultivation center.
He said his group thinks its dispensaries would be more visually attractive and less at risk for loitering, theft, or other unlawful activities if the farming portion of the operation took place at another location.
Tarricone said his group — which has met with officials in nine communities in its quest for locations — is not discouraged by its recent setbacks.
“If you are going to get chased off by some negative feedback, this isn’t the industry to get into,” he said.
“The regulations are extremely strict, stricter than any other state. The way the system is set up, there are probably fewer chances to make a mistake than any other pharmaceutical product sold. There’s an ID on the container, it’s childproof, it can be traced back to the dispensary and the patient.”
Tarricone said the rules for the dispensaries include hiring two security firms, one to monitor the site and the other to monitor the company that operates it. Each dispensary will be about 1,000 square feet and will include a waiting room, a private, secure room to purchase the marijuana, and a counseling room.
Tarricone estimated that after the first two years, there will be about 1,000 patients per dispensary. The marijuana, grown at a 5,000- to 7,000-square-foot cultivation center, would sell for $300 to $350 per ounce, on average enough for a month’s supply for each patient. Health insurance companies are not required to subsidize the cost,according to the state’s Department of Public Health.