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Panel backs pot dispensary site

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press/File

A medical marijuana dispensary planned for Washington Street in Newton between Marty’s Liquors and Cabot’s Ice Cream got unanimous approval from a key group of aldermen last week, despite opposition from some in the neighborhood, who say the busy location is wrong for this type of facility.

The Board of Aldermen’s Land Use Committee voted unanimously to recommend that Garden Remedies be granted a special permit for the Newtonville location. The full board is scheduled to vote on the plan next week.

Garden Remedies president Karen Munkacy said the dispensary at 697 Washington St. could be open by spring if the full board approves her plans.

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Tuesday’s vote came after the second session of a public hearing during which many residents opposed to having a medical marijuana dispensary at the location voiced concern that putting it in the family neighborhood near Newton North High School sends the wrong message.

Others spoke of their personal circumstances that would have them become clients of the dispensary, and of the need for a facility in the city that is easily accessible.

Dorotea Lessard said she considered herself a cancer survivor until recently, when she was told her breast cancer had returned. The mother of a 6-year-old daughter, she said she anticipates having to use medical marijuana to help boost her appetite during the months of chemotherapy ahead.

“For me, this is a matter of life and death,” she said.

Others agreed that the drug should be accessible to patients with specific conditions, including cancer, to help alleviate nausea, pain, and other symptoms, but they insisted this was simply the wrong site.

“I’m appalled by this location,” said Marie Callahan, a mother of three young children who said she and her husband moved to Newtonville because of the sense of community.

Callahan said she is worried about the dispensary’s effect on her children and on the character of the neighborhood near Cabot’s Ice Cream.

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“This is an area where children frequent,” she said.

Other opponents cited an article in a recent edition of the Newtonite, the student newspaper at Newton North High School, that raised questions about the wisdom of locating a medical marijuana facility so close to the school, and whether it would entice students.

Pedestrian safety and traffic along Washington Street were also concerns for neighborhood residents, many of whom suggested locations in a mall, in an industrial park, or along Route 9 as alternatives.

State voters approved legalizing medical marijuana in a referendum on the November 2012 ballot, and Newton voters supported the measure by a ratio of more than 2 to 1.

City officials said the Washington Street location meets state restrictions for dispensaries, exceeding the distance requirements from schools, religious institutions, and places where children congregate for scheduled activities.

However, the recommendation to grant the special permit came with many conditions that Munkacy has agreed to, including providing a police detail on site during the first week of operation, and then for four hours a day during the first three months of operation.

In addition, Garden Remedies can see patients by appointment only, and must limit medical marijuana transactions to 1 ounce, rather than the 10 ounces originally proposed. Patients with prescriptions for more than 1 ounce will have to have the remainder of their prescription delivered to their homes.

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Aldermen will also add “look back” language to allow city officials to periodically check to make sure all conditions are being met.

Alderwoman Emily Norton, who has three school-age sons, said she lives within 1,000 feet of the dispensary’s proposed location.

After initial reservations, she said, she now supports the proposal because of the concession made on the amount of marijuana given to patients at each visit, and because the facility now has a working relationship with Century Bank.

“I had great concern, particularly related to security and the amount of cash that would be at the site,” she said. “To my mind, those have been largely addressed.”


Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.