A proposal for a medical marijuana dispensary on Clapp Street was met with some trepidation by community members at a recent meeting hosted by the John W. McCormack Civic Association and the group’s regular civic meeting.
Aidan O’Donovan and his company, Natural Selections, have tested the waters on the neighborhood’s openness to the project over the past week. They hope to lease the property at 50 Clapp St., a free-standing building of about 6,000 square feet, and operate for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
The McCormack civic group held a meeting last Thursday at the Plumbers & Gasfitters Local 12 Hall on Massachusetts Avenue, which was attended by about 40 people. Attendees expressed worry about safety, proximity to children, and protecting the increasingly desirable areas of Dorchester. Others noted the value of medical marijuana as an alternative to addictive opioids, pointing to strict regulation and describing most patients as being on the older end and seeking to address pain relief or other wellness concerns.
“Our company currently in Colorado meets the objectives that we strive to replicate here,” O’Donovan said, “which include among other things consistency and quality control, its very very important for patients to know they’re getting the same thing over time, that what they have is accurately dosed.” Their Northglenn, Colo. location has not has any safety issues, O’Donovan said, and their exterior security measures have improved the safety of neighboring stores.
They have been approved in the city of Fitchburg for cultivation and dispensing. Natural Selections is also the only medical cannabis company to be approved to sell in Watertown.
O’Donovan grew up in Greater Boston. His father, Brian O’Donovan, is the host of WGBH’s A Celtic Sojourn program. He has worked in medical cannabis in Colorado since 2009, opening a 2,700-square foot Natural Selections dispensary facility and 8,000-square foot cultivation facility.
Generally, attendees said they understood the value of medical marijuana -- the district voted 68 percent in favor of legalizing it -- but quibbled with the proposed location.
Concerns raised at both meetings include the location’s proximity to schools. The site is just under 700 feet away from the Boston Collegiate Charter School campus, outside of the mandated 500 foot buffer from locations where children gather, such as schools.
Shannah Varon, principal at Boston Collegiate, confirmed that the group had come to meet with her. Boston Collegiate leaders are waiting on more information from schools near one of O’Donovan’s Colorado dispensaries before taking a position on Natural Selections’ proposal.
“I need to do my due diligence to protect the school community, but obviously I’m open to learning more,” Varon said.
Attendees at the first meeting expressed fear that drug users from along the Massachusetts Avenue corridor, including the Newmarket area, would find their way to the Capp Street facility.
Desmond Rohan, president of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association said the “vulnerable” population of addicts around Newmarket are a concern. “We have invested too much this neighborhood,” he said, “to have that kind of constituent find its way down to the neighborhood and extended Methadone Mile into the Polish Triangle.”
He also noted that Clapp Street itself is not well lit, and again raised the proximity to the schools.
“The challenge for me is the location of the site,” Rohan said. “Not that I don't want it in my backyard, but I have these three major issues.”
Natural Selections offered to make accommodations for some of these concerns, setting a minimum purchase price of $50 to dissuade individuals who might pull together enough for a quick hit, even with a medical cannabis card. They also said they are open to a moratorium on seeking expansion into recreational marijuana until 2020.
These offers prompted mixed reactions, including requests to raise the minimum price or remove it entirely so as not to cut off in-need residents who may not be able to meet that benchmark. One man was vehement in asking that Natural Selections extend the moratorium on recreational marijuana for a longer time span.
Dan Linskey, head of security and former Superintendent-in-Chief of the Boston Police Department, said the team will “exceed” state requirements on safety, including having a person on site for security around the clock and improved lighting around the site. No one would be able to access the facility without showing a valid medical marijuana card before entry, and no excess cash or cannabis would be stored on site when not in operation.
It is all just in discussion at the moment, the team emphasized. The property owner is under a contract to lease the site, but it has not yet exchanged hands.
A city restriction on medical marijuana facilities prohibits them from being within half a mile from each other. Accounting for limits on school proximity, available real estate, and building specifications, there are relatively few sites across Boston that work for this purpose.
City Councillor Frank Baker told attendees at the first meeting that three other medical marijuana businesses had looked at the same Clapp Street site. While his office would stand with the community, “we could have this exercise going on for the next year,” he said.
“The way this marijuana industry is, on the front end [Natural Selections] looks like really good operators, and as you start to get lower down the chain your operators aren't as good,” he said. “My fear would be we wait, and in X amount of years, someone gets in there that isn’t necessarily a great operator.”
The Natural Selections team reviewed market projections in Dorchester through 2021. As of 2017, there are 2,679 active medical marijuana cardholders within a 3 mile radius of the site, expected to jump to 7,549 over the following four years. They anticipate demand for flowers and concentrate to rise from 151 pounds and 1,076 grams, respectively, to 425 pounds and 3,032 grams during that time frame.
The team has “every incentive” to run a respectable facility, O’Donovan said. Such dispensaries are subjects to strict regulation and random state checks throughout the year. If any complaint or check turns up a violation, their license would be pulled and their investment goes up in smoke.
“All of us have spent decades building our own reputations,” said Mike Ross, attorney with Prince Lobel. “We are standing behind the work and none of us want to risk those reputations because what we’re doing isn't something that’s the very, very best… we all want to make sure we do right by this community.”