New England News
6:20 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Marijuana Dispensary Groups Plan Berkshire Sites

Credit Wikipedia Commons
Manna Wellness Inc. site plans for an LEED-certified facility.
Manna Wellness Inc. site plans for an LEED-certified facility.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

As New York debates legalizing recreational marijuana, groups in Massachusetts are proposing location sites after voters in the state opened the door for medical use of the drug in 2012. So far at least two groups are looking to site a dispensary in the county’s largest city, Pittsfield.

At the end of January, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health plans to award 35 provisional licenses among the 158 applicants in the final phase of the state-run process. Under the law, each of the state’s 14 counties is to have one dispensary, but no more than five. It appears Bekshires elected officials and dispensaries believe the county has clientele numbers to support just one dispensary, so interested parties are getting the ball rolling in terms of siting. Manna Wellness, Inc. has finalized a purchase agreement and plans to build a new facility on Callahan Drive off Route 20 about four miles from downtown Pittsfield. Nial DeMena is Manna’s director of operations.

“We want it to be an over-the-top welcoming experience for patients because they are stigmatized enough,” DeMena said. “Part of this is getting past the initial trepidation that patients have going to their first visit to a dispensary after getting their certification.”

Manna is one of four groups that included a generic letter of non-opposition from the city of Pittsfield in its Phase 2 application with the state. Meanwhile, the city’s community development board gave a positive recommendation for a proposed special permit submitted by Total Health and Wellness, Inc. The organization plans to redevelop a building on Dalton Avenue, located roughly four miles from downtown on the other side of the city. The application now goes to the city’s zoning board. Manna had originally planned to hold off on applying for a permit through the city until after getting a state license, but DeMena says it will try to start that process before the end of the year.

“What sets us apart is that we are building the first ever LEED certificated dispensary with a focus on sustainable and renewable energies and design,” he said. “That has never been done period. I think that is going to bring a lot of new energy sector businesses into Pittsfield to work with us.”

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says Total Health and Wellness has also expressed interest in opening in his city. However, Alcombright is proposing a moratorium on dispensaries until mid-April, as there is nothing on the city’s books regarding them.

“This is in no way is meant to be something that would in any way, shape or form set a ban on anything,” Alcombright said. “We don’t want to do that. I would welcome it, located in the right location. That’s really what it was for, to give our planning board and general government committee time to look it through.”

If approved by the city council, North Adams, which is the county’s second-most populated city, would join about a third of the state’s municipalities that have put temporary moratoriums on medical marijuana facilities in place. Springfield is the largest so far. Baystate Alternative Healthcare Inc. had expressed interest in a site on Merrill Avenue in Pittsfield, but has since withdrawn its plans, according to city planner CJ Hoss. Baystate president Robert Carp told WAMC News in November it is also looking at other sites in western Massachusetts.

“There are so many moratoriums in place any time someone finds a free building you’ll find a dozen people trying to get the building under a letter of intent,” said Carp.

Greenhouse Dispensary, Inc. also included Pittsfield’s letter of non-opposition in its state application, but has yet to submit anything to the city. The organization’s Anna Kulig says it is hoping to site somewhere in Berkshire County. In June, a zoning ordinance in Pittsfield capped the number of allowed dispensaries within city limits at three.