A medical marijuana dispensary plans to open in Hanover this summer next to Friendly’s on busy Route 53, allowing customers to -- if they so choose -- move quickly from a menu featuring THC-infused chocolate bars to one heavy on children’s meals and ice-cream sundaes.
Meanwhile in neighboring Norwell, another medical marijuana outlet is breaking ground soon in a far less visible location -- tucked into the far reaches of an industrial park at the edge of town.
Less than a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries have opened in Massachusetts since the state legalized the drug as medicine in 2012 -- and Hanover’s and Norwell’s approaches to the legalization show the range of municipalities’ responses to the new industry.
Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says that the locations of medical marijuana facilities vary widely in the 28 states where the drug is legal, with places like California and Colorado typically allowing them everywhere from strip malls to downtowns, and more conservative parts of the country relegating the dispensaries to places off the beaten track.
“In Massachusetts, it’s a little early to see a trend because so few have opened, but it seems they run the spectrum,” he said.
For example, the Alternatives Therapies Group dispensary in Salem sits at the edge of the city in a commercial and industrial area, as does the In Good Health dispensary in Brockton. And it takes some navigating to find the Ermont dispensary on Ricciuti Drive in Quincy.
But in Ayer, the Central Ave Compassionate Care dispensary and growing facility is right next to the post office and Ayer Town Hall in the center of town.
In Hanover, officials said they visited numerous medical marijuana facilities and decided to treat them as they would any medical office.
“Our observation was [a medical marijuana dispensary] acts much like a medical office because it is,” said Town Manager Troy B.G. Clarkson. “The thinking was, as a medical use, it should be sited where other medical uses are and other retail uses are.”
Hanover town planner Peter Matchak said other specific considerations, however, were finding a geographic area away from schools and playgrounds -- and places that were visible to the public.
“We felt the more eyes on the facility would be the best way to counter any concerns,” Matchak said. “It’s kind of like [dealing with] a disruptive student. Do you put him in the back of the classroom, or in the front row where you can keep an eye on him?”
As a result, the town created an overlay district for medical marijuana that runs along Route 53 and Route 123, near the busy intersection with Route 3.
Mass Organic Therapy hopes to open a dispensary this summer there, on the ground floor of 2001 Washington St., in space that was last home to a day spa. The landlord, a real estate development company, uses the rest of the distinctive stone-faced, turreted building.
Matchak said the fact that the dispensary will be next door to Friendly’s, a restaurant that caters especially to families with children, isn’t a concern. “There’s a topography change and mature vegetation between them, and [Mass Organic Therapy] has said they will add more vegetation and maybe a fence,” he said.
In contrast, Norwell focused on locating any dispensary in an area “that would have the least disruptive impact on residential neighborhoods and schools -- and wouldn’t be controversial,” said Norwell Town Administrator Peter Morin.
The town created a specific zone within two industrial parks. Within the zone in Accord Business Park, MassMedi-Spa plans to start construction in April on a 40,000-square-foot building that will house both a growing facility and dispensary, according to chief executive Jeffrey Roos.
“We may be a little secluded, in the woods a little bit,” Roos said. “But it’s near South Shore Medical Center and a lot of patients, so we’re happy with that. Once people get there, it’s going to be state of the art, and we are really looking forward to it.”
Morin said that some people in town are less than happy, though, about Mass Organic Therapy opening just over the Norwell line in Hanover, next to the kid-friendly Friendly’s restaurant and ice-cream outlet.
“It is a bit of a concern that it is there, but it’s not within our jurisdiction and nothing we can do about it,” he said.
Both Norwell and Hanover will benefit financially by having medical marijuana facilities within their borders, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years under contracts with the companies.
And both communities have taken steps to dissuade newly legal recreational marijuana outlets from taking root in their towns -- proposing moratoriums on the uses until state rules are clearer.
Voters in Norwell and Hanover supported the medical marijuana ballot question but opposed the recreational one.
“We draw a very bright line between medical and recreational marijuana,” Clarkson said. “We have been very cautious and rigorous [regarding medical marijuana], and we will be equally vigilant in opposing recreational marijuana.”Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.