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Security questioned as dispensaries go forward

14 medical marijuana distribution or growing facilities are planning to open across the suburbs by late summer

Massachusetts is among the states that have legalized sale and use of medical marijuana.

AFP PHOTO/FILES/Frederic J. BROWN/Getty Images

Massachusetts is among the states that have legalized sale and use of medical marijuana.

With at least 14 medical marijuana distribution or growing facilities planning to open across the suburbs by late summer, at least one police chief is questioning whether private security arrangements planned at the cultivation and dispensary sites will be enough to prevent a robbery.

“I think that it’s a disgrace that this is coming. I don’t think that we’re equipped for this,” said Essex Police Chief Peter G. Silva, who thinks his nine-member police department in the rural, 3,500-resident Cape Ann town could be overwhelmed with security issues relating to the marijuana cultivation site proposed by Garden Remedies, which was awarded a license to open a dispensary in Newton.

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Dr. Karen Munkacy, Garden Remedies’ chief executive officer, said she’s confident the Essex and Newton facilities would be safe and secure.

“The security will be very intense at both facilities,” said Munkacy.

At this point, Silva and other police chiefs in the region will have to deal with any security issues within their existing budgets. To date, just three medical marijuana groups are engaged in active negotiations to create agreements that will provide new revenue for host communities.

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In its application to the state, Alternative Therapies Group offered $50,000 to Salem, where it plans to open its dispensary, and to Amesbury, where its marijuana supply will be grown. Another group, Green Heart Holistic Health & Pharmaceuticals, which plans to open a dispensary in Boston and grow marijuana in Amesbury, is also negotiating with Amesbury, said Mayor Ken Gray.

In addition, Ermont, which is planning a dispensary and a cultivation area at the same site in Quincy, is also negotiating with that city, and Brookline’s New England Treatment Access is planning to donate as much as $600,000 to Brookline nonprofits in the next two years.

Across the region, police chiefs are gearing up for meetings about security with dispensary owners. Several chiefs, including Plymouth’s Michael Botieri and Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor, are concerned about the amount of cash dispensaries will generate.

“My understanding is it’s a cash business, which creates challenges in and of itself,” said Taylor.

Across the country in the 20 states where medical marijuana is legal, dispensary owners have had problems finding banks to take the money, since federal law still prohibits the sale of marijuana.

Last month, US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said legal marijuana businesses should have access to the American banking system, and he pledged that the government would create new rules to help the businesses deposit their cash.

In recent years, robberies stretching from Colorado to California have been attributed to the flow of cash and lack of access to banks, plus the street value of stolen marijuana.

According to the new medical marijuana law in Massachusetts, security will be a major part of the operations at the dispensaries and cultivation sites. The law requires video cameras to be installed and operating in all areas that contain marijuana: in parking lots, safes, vaults, sales areas, and in grow houses where marijuana is cultivated, harvested, processed, and dispensed.

The law requires video recordings 24 hours a day, and in addition, also calls for a duress or hold-up alarm connected to local law enforcement to be installed along with a back-up alarm system that has all the capabilities of the primary alarm system. Any vehicle used to transport marijuana must be staffed by two dispensary agents, who are required to use random routes and delivery times. Also, each marijuana site will be required by the state to conduct a security system audit, using a state-approved vendor.

“We’re going to have at least 100 cameras,” said Kevin Fisher, the executive director of New England Treatment Access, which plans to open a dispensary in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner and a cultivation site in Franklin. He said the Franklin site would be staffed 24 hours a day by security guards, and that employees would have to use four different security codes to access the harvest area.

In Lowell, Robert Mayerson, the chief executive officer of Patriot Care, said he has the capability of providing a live security feed to the Lowell Police from the dispensary site he’s planning to build on Industrial Avenue.

“Our security system is typically better than most banks,” said Mayerson.

In Plymouth, Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts Inc., the dispensary business led by former US representative William D. Delahunt, is planning a cultivation site in the same building as its dispensary. The grow site also will provide marijuana for its other dispensaries in Mashpee and Taunton.

Delahunt said there would be 24-security on site in Plymouth but he declined to discuss the specifics of the system. “I don’t want to reveal what our security plans are in great detail. I want the local police chief to participate in the decisions, and how we can provide the kind of security that they want,” said Delahunt.

Delahunt said his group would not sell baked goods — such as brownies — or any marijuana-infused products that could be eaten. “We don’t want things liked baked goods or lollipops, because there could be an opportunity for a patient to go home and leave it in a place where children are,” said Delahunt.

Edible products are a key component to dispensaries, said Diane Czarkowski. Along with her husband, Jay Czarkowski, who founded Canna Advisors — a Colorado-based marijuana consulting firm — she will advise Ermont of Quincy and Healthy Pharms of Haverhillon cultivating marijuana.

Typically dozens of strains are sold by medical marijuana dispensaries, along with edibles, such as baked goods, oils, butters, and drinks.

She said edibles are trending because people are moving away from smoking marijuana.

While edibles do not provide an immediate high, they create a longer buzz for people, said Czarkowski: “Even though the effects of cannabis are not felt for 60 to 90 minutes in some cases, the effects last longer — in some case six to eight hours.”

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@Globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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