NORWELL — Naturalist Jeff Corwin was born here, author John Cheever is buried here, some of the world’s most famous cymbals are made here, and soon this affluent town of 10,500 could be home to one of the first places in the state where people can buy medical marijuana.
And since Norwell is one of the few communities in Massachusetts opening its arms to the newly legalized enterprise, local officials hope their tolerance will pay off in big bucks.
“We’re looking at it like the casino process: We want to see what kind of benefit we can get,” said Town Administrator James Boudreau. Possibilities include a flat annual fee, contributions to local youth groups, and a percentage of the net revenues, he said.
“So far, the companies have all been open to that,” Boudreau said. “It’s part of their business plan.”
Nineteen businesses have applied for state permission to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Plymouth County, including two actively courting Norwell officials, Boudreau said. Another three companies had been talking to the town, but did not apply with the state to operate specifically in Plymouth County, he said.
“If you’re not willing to give back, I don’t think it’s a business for you,” said Stephen Cottens, whose Needham law firm Cottens & Carp set up the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Dispensers Association and represents Holistic Health Center, a company hoping to move to Norwell.
“Our clients all believe that giving back to the community is in the best interest of everybody — from donations to local charities to running rehab or drug awareness programs, or whatever the city or town needs. It’s all subject to negotiating,” Cottens said.
“We want to make sure that the community that we operate in, they want us there,” said Jeffrey Roos, whose Mass Medi-Spa also wants to take advantage of Norwell’s willingness — for a price — to host a medical marijuana site.
Statewide, 181 businesses applied in August for what ultimately will be up to 35 permits to cultivate, process, and provide medical marijuana and marijuana-infused products. No more than five are allowed per county, according to the law approved by voter referendum in November 2012.
Norwell voted overwhelmingly — by a 60 percent majority — in favor of the medical marijuana ballot question. And Town Meeting last May quickly approved a zoning change to allow dispensaries in the town’s two industrial parks at the far northwest edge of town: 122-acre Accord Pond Park and 150-acre Assinippi Industrial Park.
“I think people are looking at [medical marijuana dispensaries] as a business,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think they’re looking at it as an exotic new thing. Good commercial development is always welcome.”
Town planner Christopher DiIorio said both Mass Medi-Spa of Nantucket and Holistic Health Center of Boston are waiting to hear whether they have passed initial state scrutiny. The state Department of Public Health must first rule that they are nonprofit companies with at least $500,000 in capital and clean criminal histories.
Health department spokesman David Kibbe said the state expects to make its “Phase 1” decisions this fall. He noted that companies are not limited to the county they initially select and “can propose a new location as they move into Phase 2 of the process.”
That next step entails securing a specific site and getting the blessing of the local community, he said, before going back to the state for a rigorous review of the plans.
“Demonstration of local support is an important factor in our review process,” he said.
And though the state does not regulate the price of medical marijuana, dispensaries “will be strongly encouraged to offer a reduced price to patients with a verified financial hardship, and it will be a weighted factor in the application review,” Kibbe said.
The state anticipates selecting a final list of dispensaries and sites by the end of the year, he said. After that, the projects go back to the host community for approval.
In Norwell, that means getting a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, DiIorio said, with public hearings for neighborhood input. Although medical marijuana facilities are allowed in the two industrial parks, they cannot be located within 500 feet of a residence, day care center, or school, he said.
“That eliminates [some] specific buildings in those two parks, but it leaves a lot,” DiIorio said. “There are areas available and we want [them] available. I know various groups haven’t found the perfect location yet, but it doesn’t mean something won’t open.”
The industrial parks are on opposite sides of Route 3, bordering Rockland and Hanover, and both have either day care centers or schools in them, or abut residential neighborhoods.
The South Shore Charter Public School, for example, is located in Assinippi Industrial Park, as is a Bright Horizons child care. Kidz Planet gymnastics school and Younger University day care, preschool, and kindergarten are in Accord Pond Park.
DiIorio said there has been some discussion about developers paying to move one of the child-related facilities to make room for a medical marijuana dispensary.
Accord Pond Park, which is off Route 228 with an entrance next to a Porsche dealership, is home to more than 20 businesses — including the Company Theater, Sullivan Tire’s corporate headquarters, Snow and Jones plumbing supplies, Nissan and BMW car dealerships, and a nursing home.
Tenants of the larger Assinippi Industrial Park — which stretches along the borders of Rockland and Hanover — include the Zildjian cymbal factory, Clean Harbors headquarters, Wells Fargo, and numerous small businesses. The South Shore Medical Center is moving into a new facility there at the site of the former WearGuard building.
Both Mass Medi-Spa and Holistic Health Center have been working with local officials and property brokers, turning over all stones to find a suitable location, DiIorio said.
At least one potential property is out of contention, though, according to Ellison Patten of Lincoln Property Co. Patten said he has had numerous calls about 77 Accord Pond Drive, which has both warehouse and office space, but “the landlord isn’t interested in that use. We’re passing the joint, so to speak,” Patten said.
Holistic Health Center is headed by Robert Ciardi, cofounder of Provident Healthcare Partners, a Boston company that “provides investment banking services to privately held companies in the health care industry,” according to its Web page.
While Ciardi was not available for comment, his attorney, Cottens, said the company wants to open three facilities and in Norwell would only grow — not sell — medical marijuana. The Norwell site also would offer nutrition seminars, alternative medicine, yoga, and drug education meetings, Cottens said.
Nantucket-based Mass Medi-Spa has applied to operate on its home island and in Norwell. Roos, its chief executive, said he could not comment while his company’s application is pending with the state, but he referred to the company’s Web page, which said local plans call for a facility to grow, process, and sell medical marijuana products.
The Web page also listed Joseph Stevens as a board member; in 2012, he and a partner opened Greenleaf Compassion Center, the first medical marijuana center in New Jersey.
For now, the businesses and local officials are waiting for the state to release the highly anticipated list of companies that have passed the initial test.
“Assuming they can find a site, then the town will select which group they like the best,” DiIorio said. He said that will be based largely on what the company offers the town in mitigation — money and programs — and who has “the most secure site, the best plan, the best fit for the town.”