A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 8, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The early start left ample time for a final hearing on the registered medical marijuana dispensary being proposed at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village–the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9).
Minutes: Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, announced that minutes of closed sessions that were held this year on January 20, May 12, June 9 and September 8 will be released. They all concerned “real property,” a lawful topic for a closed session. The session on January 20 was described as reviewing a “lease agreement.” The ones on June 9 and September 8 were held jointly with the School Committee.
The four sets of minutes were not online as of December 12 but are available on request. Under the state’s open meeting law and regulations, the board must release minutes of closed sessions when the matters are finished and the reasons for confidentiality no longer apply. In practice, the board has reviewed and released minutes of closed sessions only on request. There are hundreds of closed meetings with unreleased minutes.
Marijuana dispensary: A long review of a registered dispensary for medical marijuana is nearing an end. Voters approved medical marijuana in the fall of 2012. A town meeting authorized zoning and local licensing in the fall of 2013. The next year, New England Treatment Access (NETA) filed for a zoning permit, reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a local license, reviewed by the Board of Selectmen.
After exploring a potential site near the corner of Beacon St. and Summit Ave., NETA negotiated an agreement for the currently proposed site in Brookline Village. In December, 2014, the town’s Licensing Review Committee began a series of five public meetings and one public hearing. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing April 23 of this year and granted a zoning permit.
The NETA proposal to use the former Brookline Savings Bank building at 160 Washington St. attracted strong neighborhood protest. Opponents filed an article for the fall town meeting last year, seeking zoning changes that would have struck out the former Savings Bank building as a potential site. They lost 60-146, in an electronically recorded vote.
The Licensing Review Committee developed a fairly stringent set of recommended license conditions, completed last April. On April 25, the Board of Selectmen adopted general regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries, based on those committee recommendations.
Until May, the committee was headed by Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, former members of the Board of Selectmen. They did not run for new terms and were replaced by Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene. The Licensing Review Committee’s findings are advisory; the Board of Selectmen is not obliged to follow them.
Headwinds: Signs of dissent emerged last month. As a regular meeting Tuesday, November 3, the Board of Selectmen was to discuss “the process for reviewing the application” from NETA for a local license. As minutes of the meeting show, the discussion soon veered from process into substance. Mr. Wishinsky suggested that any license be for a “trial period.” Board member Ben Franco questioned sales of edible products containing marijuana.
Nancy Daly, now in her tenth year on the board, called for monitoring “excessive prescriptions.” She did not say how that might be achieved but did propose several added conditions on a license for the proposed medical marijuana dispensary. They included:
• No walk-in business, service by appointment only
• A maximum number of appointments per hour
• On-site dispensing limited to 20 percent of state limits
• Home deliveries for balances of sales above local limits
• Hours of operation 10 am to 7 pm except noon to 5 pm Sunday
So far, the board is not known to have proposed similar limits on local businesses that sell other medical products. Although medical marijuana has not been identified as a significant cause of death in the United States, most pharmacies stock prescription drugs involved in a long, horrible trend of U.S. drug deaths.
U.S. drug deaths, 1999 through 2014
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Contrary to many, uninformed news reports, rapidly rising deaths from drug use are not a recent trend. Data from the federal government that span 15 years show major growth in drug deaths of U.S. residents over that entire period. Prescription drugs–not black-market drugs–caused an average of about two-thirds of those drug deaths. Currently, the U.S. rate of drug deaths exceeds the U.S. rate of deaths from motor vehicles. Prescription drugs are responsible for about 60 percent of current U.S. drug deaths.
Public hearing: The board’s public hearing on a local license continued for over two hours but produced little that had not previously emerged from several related hearings held this year and last year. Those occurred at the Licensing Review Committee, the Advisory Committee on Public Health, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Advisory Committee and its subcommittees.
Following its November 3 meeting, the Board of Selectmen released an unsigned document titled “Proposed conditions for a registered marijuana dispensary license (2015-11-20 Draft)”. Footnotes tell who on the board proposed some of the conditions but give no explanations. At the hearing, Amanda Rossitano, who has been named manager of NETA’s Brookline dispensary, objected.
The NETA dispensary now operating in Northampton, Ms. Rossitano contended, has had no problems that might justify added license restrictions. She objected to proposals for business by appointment only, for an on-site sales limit lower than the state limit and for home delivery requirements applied to larger sales.
Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, asked for a police report. Mark Morgan, a deputy superintendent, responded: “No traffic or police issues experienced in Salem, Brockton or Northampton”–three of the four communities with dispensaries now operating. The board spent substantial time questioning pharmaceutical properties and testing of products, although it lacks jurisdiction in those areas.
Frank Smizik, state representative for Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, testified in support of a local license. “NETA is a competent company,” he said. “Amanda Rossitano helped lead my office for several years.” Mr. Smizik stated he “does not support additional purchase limits” as license conditions.
Several other Brookline residents and former residents supported a license for NETA, with some objecting to added license restrictions. They included Anne Braudy of Linden Ct., Richard Brauley of Pond Ave., Fred Levitan of Beacon St., Linda Olson Pehlke of Browne St., Ronna Benjamin of Newton, Dr. Peter Moyer of Walnut St., Dr. Jordan Tishler of Loveland Rd. and Dr. Mark Eisenberg of Monmouth St.
Brookline opponents included Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., Andrew Olins of Walnut St., George Vien of Davis Ave. and Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St. Some supported added restrictions, and all opposed the proposed site on Washington St. However, Dr. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel of Wolcott Rd. said the location is “as good a site as we can get in the town” and pointed out that “home delivery is not an option for some people.” The Board of Selectmen will review the hearing and reach a decision at a later meeting.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 12, 2015
Causes of drug deaths, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February, 2015
Tracey Michienzi, Draft conditions from Licensing Review Committee, April 8, 2015
Regulations, registered marijuana dispensary, Town of Brookline, MA, April 24, 2015
Minutes, Board of Selectmen, Town of Brookline, MA, November 3, 2015
Unsigned, Draft conditions, from current Board of Selectmen, November 20, 2015
Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015
Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015
Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014
2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting, Brookline Beacon, November 27, 2014
Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline, Beacon, December 7, 2014
Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014
Craig Bolon, Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems, Brookline Beacon, August 7, 2014