The Liberty Compassionates medical marijuana company presented its plans for a dispensary at 591 Albany St. on Tuesday afternoon to the South End Forum’s Opiate Working Group – one of three marijuana proposals now being discussed in the central South End area and one that is very close to the Mass/Cass opiate epidemic epicenter.
Vin Giordano, a spokesman for Liberty with an internet security background, told the group that they would pursue a medical marijuana only dispensary for now, and believe the location on Albany Street to be a perfect place to locate their third planned dispensary.
“We believe in this industry and we believe this property is a great location for a variety of reasons,” he said. “It’s the right location for us. It works. If you look at a map you don’t want to be in other parts of Boston. It’s too complicated. This is easy. It’s the right size…and it has character. It’s available too. The fact that it’s available is big. There isn’t a lot of available real estate in Boston. Bankers don’t tend to work with (marijuana companies). They haven’t figured out how that works yet. If you’re going to rent or lease a property, you can’t mortgage. If you’re going to rent, it has to be a location that’s owned outright or leased with no mortgage. That’s a very small space.”
The big question, however, for most at these marijuana meetings comes in medical vs. recreational sales.
Bob Minnocci, vice president of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), asked if they would commit to remaining a medical dispensary and not switch to recreational.
Giordano wouldn’t commit unconditionally, but said he is currently committed exclusively to medical dispensing.
“If you look at the information I have, the website I’m pushing and notifications I have pushed out, it’s all medical,” he said. “I don’t have any plans to go recreational. If I do, I have to go through this same process from the start again…I’ve done a lot of start-ups. What I’ve learned is it’s impossible to say ‘I will never.’ I don’t want to be a jerk – no bait-and-switch. It’s just very difficult to say never, but I can say I have to go through the same process again and everyone will have opportunities to support or reject or otherwise.”
Giordano and Liberty are reaching out to several community organizations, as well as large developers near them like Leggat McCall (The Smith) and the Abbey Group (Exchange South End). Liberty is based out of Rhode Island and its main investor is real estate developer Richard Baccari. They have a grow facility under construction in Clinton, and have a dispensary under construction in West Springfield. They list another location in Fall River, but the status of that location wasn’t discussed. Locally, former Southie State Sen. Jack Hart is handling their local process and Attorney Charles Tevnan is handing their zoning process.
Giordano said on Tuesday that in the last month they have signed a contract with The Ed Davis Group for security – the company owned by former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis.
The building is the Boston Flower Market, and has been under a lease agreement for about five months. That building is very close to some neighbors with giant concerns.
They face an uphill battle with the immediate neighbors, Leggat McCall and Abbey Group, who have many, many millions at stake with large developments just a stone’s throw away.
Leggat McCall is opposed to the plan, and the Abbey Group has had some serious concerns about it as well.
Moderator Steve Fox said it would bode well for Liberty to begin a thorough dialog with those neighbors – who both had representatives in the room – very soon.
“There are clearly a lot of questions and concerns that deserve more than one quick sit-down,” he said. “Let’s put a process in place so new development in the area feels there is at least an engagement with you in this process.”
One major concern for those at the Working Group was the fact that the dispensary would be only steps away from the epicenter of the Mass/Cass opiate situation – a problem situation that the Working Group has expressly been trying to make better.
Fox, as well as others, said the goal with the review of Liberty is to figure out if it will make things better or worse.
“We in the South End feel we are particularly focused on trying to find solutions,” he said. “When new providers and new options come to us, we need to look at them to see if they’ll add to or detract from a healthier, safer environment in the community…One thing I hear across the board from other neighborhood associations is whether this will cause them more problems. That’s the assurance people are looking for.”
One of the group’s concerns along those lines was whether people from Mass/Cass would wander into the dispensary to get marijuana, and also whether patients would use the product to smoke in public parks or nearby.
One of the technical requests made was to institute a minimum purchase limit of $50 or $100.
Giordano said that has been in discussions, but he didn’t realize it was important to the community.
“I’m 100 percent open to a minimum sale,” he said. “That’s a discussion I’m working with Ed Davis and his security team on for the right approach…I had thought about a minimum sale. Maybe it has to be moved to a higher priority in my business plan. That’s helpful feedback.”
A final question was how much Liberty expected to make annually.
Giordano said they believe that if they grossed $2 million to $4 million annually, it would be a tremendous success.
“That number is the cone of the hurricane,” he said.
The Liberty proposal is up against three other proposals in the South End within the City’s half-mile radius regulation and all are trying to one-up the other and finish the race first.
A proposal at 633 Tremont St. by Compassionate Organics has gone through several meetings, but didn’t show up for its meeting with the Working Group last summer. That proposal has seen some support, but the neighborhood association Pilot Block opposes it due to the zoning regulations.
Another proposal from Happy Valley is on East Springfield, but hasn’t had any public meetings. It intends to be purely recreational in nature.
Finally, a grow facility with no sales components in the Newmarket Business Association area is also proposing within the radius, and Newmarket is looking to support that proposal.
Other news and notes from the Working Group:
- Deputy Chief Michael Stratton was introduced to the group as the new deputy chief for mental health, homelessness, and the opiate crisis. He replaces Dep. Chief Winnie Cotter, and will be working citywide, but devoting a great deal of time to the Mass/Cass area.
Stratton wasted no time in bringing up issues, noting that he believes something needs to be done with the AHOPE needle exchange.
“It’s not an exchange anymore,” he said. “It’s a giveaway and then throw away. There’s no incentive to bringing them back…You should have to bring your used needles back.”
- The Shattuck Planning Process has kicked off and will have another meeting on Sept. 26 in the Franklin Park Golf Course Club building. The process has a representative from the South End on the steering committee, but it is being led by the state. The idea for Southenders is to find a way to cooperatively locate some services from the South End at the Shattuck in exchange for accepting the move of the Shattuck to East Newton Street.
“A common fear in JP seems to be that the South End wants to move everything in the South End to JP,” said Fox. “It couldn’t be further from the truth. This needs to be a partnership with JP. We need a data-driven process…We really want this to be a handshake and not one neighborhood pitted against another.”
Other meetings will occur in the same location on Jan. 16, 2019, and April 30, 2019, both at 6:30 p.m.