Does a marijuana dispensary belong downstairs from a counseling agency that helps families cope with addiction? Is an outlet that sells pot any more dangerous than a convenience store that sells beer or wine or a Mexican restaurant known for its Margaritas?
In Rowley, 16 miles north of Salem, the answers to those questions depend on zoning laws and how much tax money could flow into the town treasury.
Old Planters of Cape Ann has applied to open a retail and medical marijuana dispensary at 300 Newburyport Turnpike (Route 1), downstairs from Northeast Counseling Associates in a space formally occupied by a convenience store that sold beer, wine, snacks, and lottery tickets. In the same plaza is a popular Mexican restaurant.
Rowley zoning laws require any marijuana establishment to be 200 feet from a day care, school, or religious institution, but there are no restrictions about locating next door to a mental health agency.
Residents and mental health professionals turned out Wednesday night as the town’s Planning Board considered special permit requests for two retail and medical marijuana establishments to be located in the town’s approved marijuana district along Route 1. The Rowley Board of Selectmen has endorsed both applicants.
As part of the Rowley host agreements, the firms would pay the town 3 percent of gross sales .
“If you look at what these businesses have made in places like Leicester, we would have realized about $66,000 in one week,” Planning Board Chairman Christopher Thornton said. “That money is sorely needed.”
Spencer Kalker, president of Old Planters of Cape Ann, described his organization as a health care company. His brother, Kirk Kalker, a pediatric nurse and patient advocacy representative stressed marijuana’s “wonderful medicinal uses” and said it “was ridiculous” that a counseling agency was “okay with alcohol next door, but not cannabis.”
Dr. Edward Pace-Schott, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard and a counselor at Northeast Counseling Associates — a pediatric, adolescent and family mental health practice — had a different view.
“People access counseling for a variety of issues including anxiety, depression, major mental illness or family challenges and most are impacted by substance abuse in some way,” Pace-Schott said. “Each person and family is unique but, most if not all would be negatively impacted by a marijuana facility located directly below us.”
Northeast Counseling is in year three of a five-year lease. Kalker has offered to help the counseling agency financially if the patient population drops by 20 percent after one year.
“Rowley is a community with relatively few mental health resources and enormous needs,” Pace-Schott responded. “There are a number of marijuana establishments proposed along Route 1 in Rowley. There is only one child and family behavioral health practice.”
The other marijuana applicant, Nature’s Remedy, will locate in a single-use building at 264 Newburyport Turnpike that was previously a used car dealership.
Old Planters also has a pending application with the Cannabis Control Commission to open a cultivation facility and retail marijuana dispensary on Route 1 in Ipswich just 3 miles south of the proposed Rowley site.
Pace-Schott stressed that the town and state created a buffer zone between schools and the marijuana stores “for a reason — to protect children.” His pediatric and adolescent clients were “fragile” and the buffer zone should apply to counseling agencies too, he said, because it meets the “spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law.”
During the public input segment Joanne Cook of Rowley asked, “Where is the heart of the people? All I hear about is money, money, money. What about our children? Why did they choose this particular site?”
Kalker responded, “The town restricts where we can be located. We are simply meeting the regulations.”
Rowley resident Marcia Melnyk added, “This is all about the mighty dollar.”
Thornton stressed he and his board would give both sides’ arguments serious consideration. The approval process was continued until the next scheduled meeting in January.
Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.