Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing for a medical marijuana dispensary on Newbury Street in the Back Bay started innocuously enough.
Mike Ross, the attorney for Compassionate Organics, the group behind the proposal, made brief remarks. A handful of people spoke in favor of the dispensary, then a woman spoke in opposition.
Things changed when Oliver Curme approached the podium on the 8th floor of City Hall.
Curme, who introduced himself and said he lived at the historic Burrage Mansion in the Back Bay, said that he and his friends were against the proposal because “it will bring undesirable elements into the neighborhood.”
He then identified the “elements”: military veterans suffering from PTSD, those who suffer with multiple sclerosis (MS), and breast cancer patients, according to video footage of the meeting.
“There are army vets with PTSD, and we don’t want them in our neighborhood,” he said. “Give me a break. They can get over it.”
He continued: “The second thing is people with wheelchairs, with MS or whatever.”
As he made that comment, he shook his hand in the air in an apparent attempt to mimic someone who has MS. Geoffrey Reilinger, the CEO of the nonprofit behind the dispensary proposal, was present at the hearing and has publicly said that marijuana helped him control his MS.
At this point during Curme’s comments, a zoning board member interjected, “I don’t think this is a zoning issue.”
Curme plowed forward.
“The third one is women with breast cancer,” he said. “They always have that cadaverous look and they wear those ridiculous turbans.”
At that point, multiple people on the board could be heard saying “thank you,” in an attempt to end his testimony.
“It’s a high end shopping district” Curme concluded. “We don’t want people like that scaring off the clientele.”
A board member replied, “We got your message loud and clear.”
Curme then sat down and sipped from a bottle of water.
Attempts to reach Curme Wednesday night were unsuccessful.
But Curme told NBC Boston that he was actually in favor of the proposal, and that his comments were intended to mock opponents of the dispensary.
“The point that I was trying to make is a marijuana dispensary is going to bring in people that really need this,” he said. “People who are sick people who have cancer or some other thing and this is the only choice for them.”
He added, “If you listen to what I said it was so over the top, that I think that’s the only way it could have been construed.”
Ross, a former city councilor who has written opinion pieces for the Globe, said he had “never in my life heard anything so appalling.”
Asked what he thought of Curme’s claim that he was trying to make a point through satire, Ross said, “It’s equally unwelcome.”
“It’s disturbing on all fronts,” he said. “I think that guy has some substantial issues and these comments have no place in our public discourse. He’s trolling and it’s not appreciated.”
Mark Erlich, a zoning board member, called Curme’s comments “completely out of line, inappropriate, and offensive.”
“It has nothing to do with the zoning issues and the use issues we were considering,” he said Wednesday night.
The zoning Board of Appeal ultimately approved the dispensary proposal for 331 Newbury St. in a unanimous vote.