Tyler W. Stearns
WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen Tuesday, Jan. 10 unanimously decided to allow Mission Massachusetts to open a medical marijuana grow facility in Whitman.
The vote provides the company with a letter of support, the next step it must complete toward obtaining a Department of Public Health license.
Selectmen first discussed the issue in a Nov. 15 meeting continued to Dec. 13 in an effort to provide residents a chance to comment. The number of residents who attended the Dec. 13 meeting prompted Selectmen Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci, who chaired that meeting, to schedule Tuesday’s session for the Town Hall Auditorium to permit a larger crowd to attend.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam had also said he needed to research some of the questions that were raised Dec. 13.
Since the Dec. 13 meeting, Mission Massachusetts has held a public informational seminar to discuss project details and the professionalism of their company at the Whitman Public Library on Jan. 5. Multiple members of the company’s team went to each meeting, but the Jan. 5 session on was their opportunity to educate the public about their intentions, representatives said.
“We want to professionalize the industry,” various members of Mission Massachusetts have said throughout this process, including its CFO Ben Smith.
The Jan. 5 meeting did not appear to quell anxieties, as some opponents again spoke out against it Tuesday night.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam had expressed concern that opponents were mistakenly describing the facility proposed for 233 Bedford St., behind Sweezey Fence.
Not a dispensary
“We’re recognizing this is a product no different than a drug company manufacturing oxycodone here,” Lynam said. He, and the board, continued to reiterate that they are “not interested in a dispensary.”
Because Mission Massachusetts is already in the licensing process, company officials said in November that they qualify for the pool of applicants for a recreational marijuana license, but are now solely focused on the medical-use growing facility they hope to locate in Whitman.
Town officials have remained adamant that they would permit no recreational use dispensary in the town.
“We’re not confused, we’re concerned,” one Whitman resident said Tuesday night.
“Just because something is legal does not make it right” said another, to applause from some in the crowd.
Contrary to previous meetings, several residents spoke in support of the facility Tuesday night. One asked, “Would you have a different opinion if we were talking about a distillery?”
A young resident argued that this would be a positive change for the town, and that younger professionals would be inclined to move to town with it in place. They argued that most of the younger generations do not have a negative attitude toward marijuana.
“I didn’t come to the realization that I would vote for this until I saw the Brockton Facility,” Chairman Carl Kowalski said. He also noted that oipiod abuse is a greater concern as there are “four opioid deaths a day in Massachusetts.”
Many residents also voiced their anxieties about Whitman’s reputation.
“Why Whitman?” was a question asked by some attendees.
Mission’s Jan. 5 presentation listed towns such as Georgetown, Plymouth, Franklin and Brockton as municipalities with cultivation sites. Only Brockton stood out to one resident, who asked, “Why do we want to be like Brockton?”
Police Chief Scott Benton has toured the Brockton facility and said, “Not only is it run well and secure, it’s a business. Whether we like it or don’t, the voters (62 percent in Whitman in 2012) have spoken and this has been legalized.”
Benton has opposed dispensaries locating in Whitman.
Some opponents were concerned that their voices were being ignored by the board, but Selectman Brian Bezanson countered that, “We are bound to act on behalf of everyone, not 50 or 60 … We are here to make the best decision for everyone.”
“It is hypocritical to want medical marijuana in state but not in our town,” said Vice Chairman Daniel Salvucci, referencing the 62 percent of Whitman voters who favored the medical marijuana bill in 2012.
“There is a need for medical marijuana,” said Board member Scott Lambiase before the votes were cast.
Hearing the Board of Selectmen speak in favor of the facility and of medical marijuana, half of the crowd had already left before the vote.
Tuesday night’s meeting lasted nearly two hours, with the vote occurring at 8:47 p.m.
Mission Massachusetts has also discussed their commitment to working with local communities and their desire to hire locally. They estimate 15-20 jobs, but also commented that this is a low estimate to make initial expectations reasonable.
The legal distinctions between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana has been a topic of confusion over the course of these meetings. This was complicated when state Rep. Geoff Diehl spoke at the Jan. 5 meeting with information that only pertained to recreational laws, according to Lynam.
Lynam said Friday, Jan. 6 that Diehl provided misinformation to the group, including that there are three ways to prevent the grow-site from happening.
“Unfortunately the information he provided applied to recreational marijuana, not medicinal marijuana,” Lynam said, noting that he had tried to correct Diehl during the meeting, but Diehl had disagreed at that time.
He called Lynam at home after the Jan. 5 meeting to admit his mistake. He also contacted Mission Massachusetts.
“He contacted me later to acknowledge that, in fact, his comments did not apply to medicinal marijuana,” Lynam said. “I don’t know what difference it would have made to the members present, but there appeared to be a small vocal group of opposition.”
Some of those opponents “demonstrated an unwillingness to listen and an intolerance for any position other than their own,” according to Lynam.
(Express editor Tracy F. Seelye contributed to this report.)