PORTSMOUTH — News that a medical marijuana center has moved its proposed location has drawn words of caution from several residents who say the town needs to have more oversight over such operations.
The lawyer for the facility, however, says the proposal is in compliance with the town’s zoning laws.
The Greenleaf Compassion Center, one of three medical marijuana centers approved by the state to open in Rhode Island, had originally planned to locate its distribution center at 200 Highpoint Ave., in the Portsmouth Industrial Park. Last month, Greenleaf co-owner Seth Bock announced he’s seeking approval to change the location to 1637 West Main Road.
Dr. Bock owns the Newport Acupuncture and Wellness Spa in Middletown. He and Richard Radebach are financing the purchase of the West Main Road property through a limited liability company. The medical marijuana center would be the only tenant under an initial lease of two years.
The new facility, a 2,800-square-foot, one-story building, is about half a mile south of Melville Elementary School. It was previously used as both an automotive repair building and a workshop for a house builder. In a Dec. 12 letter to the state Department of Health, Dr. Bock said the building at the new location “is a superior structure and more conveniently located for the patients we will service.” The new location has a RIPTA bus stop nearby, unlike the previous facility, he wrote.
Resident: Oversight needed
At Monday night’s Town Council meeting, local resident Kathy Melvin said that although medical marijuana centers are legal, the town needs to have more control over the business through its zoning laws and other regulations. Police and school officials need to have more input as well, she said.
“We have the responsibility to determine what the long-term impact is on Portsmouth,” said Ms. Melvin, noting that the owners of Greenleaf have been “very upfront” about business growth. “Rhode Island is awash right now in marijuana. There has to be a town’s sense of responsibility to its teens.”
She added that the town “should not be blinded by the language that is used to identify these facilities,” noting that 80 percent of permitted uses of marijuana is not for serious illnesses. “It’s mostly for pain,” she said.
Ray Davis, coordinator of the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, also asked the council to take a closer look at the proposed facility, saying he’s concerned about increased drug use in town. Although the facility was approved by the state legislature, he said, marijuana has not gone under the scrutiny of either the Federal Drug Administration or the American Medical Association.
One resident who lives near the proposed facility said she had hoped neighbors would have some say on the proposal. With only three distribution centers in the state, “I imagine there would be people coming from everywhere,” she said.
Acting Police Chief Jeffrey Furtado said he also has general concerns about the distribution center. “Any time you introduce any kind of substance in your community, you’re bound to have some problems,” he said. However, he said his personal feelings can’t get in the way of the fact that it’s a legal operation.
Attorney: We’re in compliance
The police chief and representatives from Greenleaf weren’t able to talk about the new location before Monday’s meeting. However, Greenleaf’s security director met with Chief Furtado on Tuesday morning, said attorney Vernon Gorton Jr., who represents Greenleaf. He said the business will provide police with any information regarding security measures and other concerns.
Mr. Gorton said the new proposal didn’t go before the Zoning Board of Review because building official George Medeiros determined that plans for the property already complied with local zoning laws.
“The law says you can’t treat us any differently because we’re a compassion center,” he said in response to requests for more town oversight. “It’s as stringently regulated a business as any other.”
The state Department of Health, he added, is the expert when it comes to overseeing these types of facilities.