Firm seeks Westport approval for medical marijuana facility

Coastal Healing aims to cultivate, sell marijuana at State Road site

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 1/1/20

WESTPORT — Some words of support, but also questions and concerns greeted a proposal to build a medical marijuana “treatment center” during a December 17 appearance before the …

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Firm seeks Westport approval for medical marijuana facility

Coastal Healing aims to cultivate, sell marijuana at State Road site

Posted

WESTPORT — Some words of support, but also questions and concerns greeted a proposal to build a medical marijuana “treatment center” during a December 17 appearance before the Planning Board.

Attorney Brian Corey outlined plans for the Coastal Healing facility that would be located at 248 State Road next door to Holiday Lanes bowling alley and almost across from Mid-City Scrap.

The 2.5 acre lot is now a “disused residential site” in a commercial zone occupied by what was said to be a badly run-down wood frame house.

The idea, he said, is to build a new steel building on a footprint of 10,000 square feet. With an added upper mezzanine area to house offices and employee space, total interior floor space would rise to around 13,000 square feet, more than  the 10,000 square feet allowed for such use by Westport rules.

Since every bit of the interior space is needed for growing and sales, they’d either rehab the old house to contain the facility’s mechanical systems (water, electric etc.), or tear it down and put up a new steel building on the same footprint, an option he said “we’d prefer.”

Most of the main building would be used to cultivate and process marijuana; a smaller section would house an appointment-only distribution center where customers could purchase their marijuana.

“It is small,” Mr. Corey said, compared to medical marijuana growing and selling centers elsewhere in the state which are 30,000 to 40,000 square feet and more in size.

This would be a “green project,” Mr. Corey said. Solar panels would cover the roof and provide most or all of the electricity; water for the plants would be filtered and re-used.

Security would be tight and dictated by state regulations, Mr. Corey said.

There would be almost no windows, the building would be surrounded by inward pointing lights and video cameras, there would be motion detectors, alarmed doors, vaults, and two guards would be present at all times the building is open (8 am to 8 pm “at most”). 

Access to the growing area would be by badge only through a single guarded entrance.

Only customers holding a state medical marijuana card (authorized by a physician or physician assistant) would be let in, and admission would be by appointment only. 

Issues: Traffic, appearance …

The project received a letter of non-opposition from the Board of Selectmen a year and a half ago, planners were told. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals, however, recommended disapproval, saying that town bylaws approved by voters do not allow cultivation of marijuana — medical or otherwise (the Building Department offered no comment).

Mr. Corey, and Town Planner James Hartnett, disputed that point.

“I’m confused by the Zoning Board’s interpretation,” Mr. Corey said. “Having read the town bylaw,” it does allow for the growing of medical marijuana. Asked about that, Mr. Hartnett said that is his understanding as well.

The police chief expressed a number of concerns, particularly about traffic turning in from the busy four-lane road and possibly needing to line up at times when the customer parking spaces might be full. 

Cited as an example of such traffic problems was the Northeast Alternatives marijuana facility in Fall River at the Tiverton line.

This would be much different, Mr. Corey replied. Unlike at the Fall River facility, customer traffic would be limited by the reservation-only system, he said. Also, Northeast Alternatives sells marijuana for medical and recreational use, is located right by the Rhode Island line, is almost across the street from the Tiverton Casino, and shares a small parking lot with a busy retail store off a two-lane road.

“This is a pretty large facility and you are going to be growing a considerable amount,” board Chairman James Whitin said. Will it all be sold for medical use or is the plan to eventually sell some for recreational use too? “Because our bylaw says you can’t do that. How is that going to be regulated?”

Every plant has a bar code, Mr. Corey said, “that follows it all the way through the process … A couple of keystrokes and they could tell you where every gram of marijuana that is processed in the facility went.”

Cash crop

How do customer financial transactions take place, Mr. Corey was asked. How is it expected that customers will pay?

“Mostly cash,” Mr. Corey said —upwards of 85 to 90 percent. “That is not a function of the business owner. That is a function of federal banking laws. As we know it’s still illegal under federal law,” even though it is legal in Massachusetts and other states.

Under state law, that cash would be accounted for by the plant tracking system, by the fact that all cash would be taken by separate courier to a bank in an unmarked vehicle, and other means.

Mr. Whitin commented on the look of the large metal structure, drawings for which show only two tiny windows.

“The front of the building is not exactly going to be an Architectural Digest.”

“We are taking our cues from across the street,” Mr. Corey said, “and trying to minimize security issues. We’re not allowed to have products visible from any street.”

Words of support

“I started out in favor of this because I’ve seen friends wrestling with chemotherapy and benefit tremendously from medical marijuana and have to get it off the street,” said board member John Bullard.

“It’s a drug that ought to be available legally and easily. It’s a tremendous help to people who are in tremendous pain.”

Later he said he is satisfied that the Westport code allows for the sale of medical marijuana and that traffic issues have been answered to his satisfaction.

If you want a business that generate’s traffic, State Road seems a good place, he said.

“I mean, we are trying to generate traffic on State Road for Pete’s sake. If we don’t like traffic, we ought to shut down the county fair.”

Board members also had questions about details that were either not clear or not shown on plans, drainage, the septic system, whether the old house would be used or torn down, whether more windows might be added, and other issues.

The hearing was continued to Tuesday, Jan 14., at 7 p.m.

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