South End Neighbors Show Initial Wariness Over Medical Marijuana Pitch

By Seth Daniel

News traveled fast in the South End this week about a medical marijuana outfit that has begun pitching the idea of locating a facility in the 600th block of Tremont Street.

Several neighborhood leaders told the Sun that Jeff Reillinger of Compassionate Organics has been making the rounds and pitching the idea of opening another medical marijuana location at 633 Tremont St. Compassionate Organics recently received approval from the City to open a facility on Newbury Street. Reillinger, of the Back Bay, is the son of former Boston School Committee Chair Elizabeth Reillinger, who is on the board of Compassionate.

An e-mail to Compassionate Organics for comment was not returned.

So far, the neighborhood hasn’t been too hot on the idea of adding another service provider so near to the Mass/Cass area where a wealth of anti-drug efforts have been focused by the neighborhood and the City. A long-standing position by many neighborhood associations in the area has been that the South End is maxed out on service providers and needs no more new services – whether marijuana, safe injection sites, homeless shelters or Methadone clinics.

The issue came up publicly on Tuesday evening at the South End Forum’s Opiate Working Group, which is made up of a blend of neighborhood folks, City leaders, service providers, businesses and elected officials.

Moderator Steve Fox said he and a member of the Pilot Block Neighborhood Association met with Reillinger this week.

The proposal would be to potentially site the facility on Tremont Street as a medical marijuana office, but if retail marijuana became available, he intends to convert it to a retail marijuana outlet.

“On behalf of the South End Forum, what we expressed in our meeting with him was a de facto understanding that any new provider or service coming to the South End would be looked at with skepticism,” Fox said. “I would say we’re opposed to any additions in providers and services because we have our hands full already, and that probably represents the sentiment of the South End community over several years.”

It is not the first time that a part of the South End battled a medical marijuana proposal. Some years ago, Bob Minnocchi, vice president of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Council (WSANA), led the charge to successfully beat back a proposal near Boston Medical Center (BMC). WSANA has also been on the front lines of addressing the opiate epidemic with the Working Group.

Minnocchi said he would not support such a facility, simply because he is calling for no new providers within a one-mile radius of BMC – no matter what the proposal.

“My position is intransigent:  No new service, including medical or recreational marijuana dispensaries, within one mile of Boston Medical Center,” he said. “This is quite reasonable given the preponderance of existing service and the unbearable weight that service is having on the safety and welfare of South End residents whose taxes, I might add, are paying for all these services and for all the salaries of elected and non-elected officials making these decisions.” Councilor-elect Ed Flynn said he has also met with Reillinger and a number of community groups. He said he has some grave reservations and stands with the community.

“I have some serious concerns and reservations about opening a marijuana facility in that location,”  he said. “I would stand with the neighbors and the community making sure the South End is treated fairly. I think the South End is oversaturated with too many providers and this would be another program or provider coming into the neighborhood…I don’t think the community is in support of another facility or program coming in.”

He said he has also met with Fox and indicated he felt that Fox and the Working Group are providing great leadership on the issue.

Fox said that in conversations with Reillinger, the potential operator believes that medical marijuana would work in conjunction with the Working Group’s efforts. Fox said Reillinger believes marijuana to be a way to treat opiate dependence.

“He believes that medical marijuana could be a treatment for the addiction concerns in the South End,” he said. “He believes offering medical marijuana in the South End would be an abjunctive therapy that could be used.”

Fox and others in the Working Group also indicated that Reillinger told them he would not pursue the idea if it was roundly opposed.

A medical marijuana facility was approved on the other side of South Bay in Dorchester by the neighborhood association there in a close vote recently. It is moving forward to the City process now and is located in the Newmarket area.

A location on Milk Street downtown is already operating. A location in Somerville on the Charlestown line is also now up and running.

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