A medical marijuana dispensary could move in among the retail shops on Newbury Street next summer, after the Boston City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to let the project proceed.
The nonprofit that proposed the facility at 331 Newbury St., Compassionate Organics, will need additional approvals from the state Department of Public Health and Boston zoning and health officials before it can start selling cannabis to registered patients. But the council’s decision to issue the group a state-required “letter of nonopposition” was a victory the dispensary needed if it hopes to open in August 2018 as planned.
“I’m obviously grateful for today’s vote,” Compassionate Organics chief executive Geoffrey Reilinger said Wednesday. “We have a lot of work ahead, but it’s an important step, and we’re eager to continue to prove our ability to run a top-notch business in Boston.”
Currently, just one medical dispensary is open in Boston: a facility on Milk Street run by Patriot Care. Several nonprofits besides Compassionate Organics, however, have also secured letters of nonopposition from Boston and are working to open dispensaries in the city.
Reilinger had previously spent years building community support for a dispensary in Allston. But councilors shot down that plan last August, instead backing another dispensary that wanted to open in the neighborhood — and that had hired a political consultant and friend of Allston-Brighton Councilor Mark Ciommo.
The council’s vote against Compassionate Organics last year followed a series of increasingly acrimonious exchanges between Reilinger and Ciommo. The dispensary boss publicly accused the politician of “bias” and “showmanship,” while Ciommo said Compassionate Organics was inexperienced and had misled the city about having the support of law enforcement officials.
This time around, Reilinger stacked his team with well-connected consultants, tapping former city councilor Mike Ross as his attorney and former Boston Police Department superintendent-in-chief Daniel Linskey to head his security team. Dot Joyce, who ran former mayor Thomas M. Menino’s press office, is also representing Compassionate Organics.
The hires appeared to impress councilors considering the proposed new location, in a two-story brick building on the end of Newbury Street closest to Massachusetts Avenue.
“You have a great group,” Councilor Salvatore LaMattina said at a Tuesday hearing on the dispensary.
Reilinger has also apologized to Ciommo, saying at the hearing that his group fell short of the “standards he and all of you [councilors] should expect and demand from applicants like me.”
“I really appreciate your apology and accept it,” Ciommo replied. “We had a rough go, without question, but we’re here now.”
Ciommo said he would defer to Josh Zakim, the councilor whose district includes the Back Bay, and on Wednesday did not vote against issuing the letter to Compassionate Organics.
Zakim cautioned that Wednesday’s vote was not a final decision, but said most residents and businesses in the neighborhood agreed the group should at least be allowed to continue the application process.
“I, personally, am reserving judgment on this until there’s more of a community process,” he said. “But I think they’ve shown . . . that this could be an appropriate location and that they do have the expertise to operate this facility.”
Compassionate Organics plans to source its marijuana from a 30,000-square-foot cultivation and processing facility it has proposed constructing in Fitchburg. To improve security, Reilinger explained, little inventory would be kept on hand at the Newbury Street shop. Instead, buds and edibles would be packaged in sealed containers in Fitchburg and delivered daily to the dispensary.
In asking the council for support, Reilinger testified that marijuana helps control his multiple sclerosis. He also stressed his upbringing, saying he was raised in the Back Bay.
“It’s my neighborhood,” he said. “I grew up there.”
The council’s deliberations were clouded by uncertainty on Beacon Hill, where lawmakers are working on an extensive rewrite of the state’s recreational marijuana law — including provisions that spell out whether and how medical dispensaries can eventually offer recreational pot to nonpatients.
Several councilors asked whether Compassionate Organics planned to add a recreational operation, but Reilinger said he couldn’t answer definitively until the state finalizes its rules.Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.