With the question of who will receive a state license to open a medical marijuana dispensary on the Vineyard still unsettled, a West Tisbury businesswoman is pressing ahead with plans to open a dispensary at a well-known up-Island alternative health center.
Susan Sanford came before the West Tisbury board of appeals Thursday night with her application to open a registered medical marijuana dispensary in the bottom floor of Vineyard Complementary Medicine in West Tisbury.
Ms. Sanford does not have a license from the state and is competing with one other Vineyard applicant and one off-Island Island applicant for a possible license in Dukes County.
Citing the Islandwide impact and need for more regional public discussion, the board voted to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. It marks the first medical marijuana referral to the MVC.
“There’s probably not going to be more than one or two in the county,” said board chairman Tucker Hubbell at the public hearing. “The fact that the state uses the word county and doesn’t use the word town [in the law allowing dispensaries] makes me feel we as a board have no choice but to send this as a discretionary referral to Martha’s Vineyard Commission.”
The vote was 4 to 1 to refer the project to the commission as a development of regional impact.
Ms. Sanford is doing business as Greenleaf MV Compassionate Care.
Even without a license, Mr. Hubbell said that with a town bylaw approved last year regulating dispensaries, Ms. Sanford has the right to go through the application process.
“She’s availing herself of the legal side. She can come before the board and apply,” Mr. Hubbell said. “If we were to give it to her it doesn’t mean she can open yet. It probably helps her application the next time around.”
In February, the state Department of Public Health released a list of first-round applicants provisionally approved for dispensary licenses. No applicant from Dukes County was on the list although four had made it to the final application phase, including Ms. Sanford and Geoffrey Rose, a West Tisbury businessman who is doing business as Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard.
The state law passed in 2012 allows up to 35 dispensaries in state and requires at least one but no more than five in each county.
The head of an off-Island company that has received a provisional license from the state appeared before the all-Island police chiefs association in February, apparently to test the waters for opening a dispensary on the Vineyard. Patriot Care Corp. has a provisional license for a dispensary in Lowell and could possibly obtain a license for Dukes County.
Meanwhile, both Ms. Sanford and Mr. Rose are seeking a second review by the state DPH. Last month, the West Tisbury selectmen agreed to write letters of non-opposition for both candidates, who hope the letters will boost their applications.
Ms. Sanford has owned and operated Vineyard Complementary Medicine for the past eight years.
“Depending on how the state moves forward with licensure, I anticipate being a part of it no matter what,” she told the board of appeals Thursday. “By supporting this special permit application will allow the Vineyard to have a really good local say in what happens, as opposed to an outside agency coming in without any community ties to just set up and do business here.”
Ms. Sanford’s partner in Greenleaf Compassionate Care is Seth Bock, an acupuncturist who has a dispensary in Rhode Island. Mr. Bock attended the meeting. They estimated 330 year-round patients would use the dispensary, with approximately 17 patients per day. Ms. Sanford said the dispensary would be similar to a pharmacy, and she estimated selling between four and five ounces of cannabis daily.
“My priority is taking care of our year-round patients here,” Ms. Sanford said. “The more I can do to empower my patients, that’s my mission and that’s my goal. They could really benefit from this medicine.”
Edible, or medically infused products, would also be available at the dispensary including oils, baked goods and candy. They estimated that about 90 per cent of product would be cannabis and 10 per cent would be edibles.
A heavy security system is planned with two identification checkpoints, motion sensors and 24-hour video surveillance outside the building.
Ms. Sanford said the facility would only be a dispensary and that cultivation would be done off-site, either on or off the Island. The dispensary would be located in the current physical therapy room of the building, which would be moved to a satellite location, she said. Parking includes 20 spaces for patients and six spaces for employees.
Associate board member Larry Schubert wanted to see future traffic studies include the frequency of patient visits to the dispensary, both seasonal and year-round. He said he wanted a more “robust plan” that detailed the traffic flow.
Board member Toni Cohen made the motion to refer to the project to the commission.
“It’s billed as countywide,” she said. “We should send it to the commission to open up the conversation to the rest of the Island.”
Mr. Bock questioned whether the dispensary was being sent to the commission due to the sale of medical marijuana. But Mr. Hubbell said he believes the project has regional impact.
“It has nothing to do with the product. You could open a flower shop at your location and someone else who lives two doors down could open, that’s supply and demand and part of the basic American economy,” Mr. Hubbell said. “This is a very specific in the state law that there’s only going to be, more than likely, one of these on Martha’s Vineyard.”
“If there were an unlimited amount of dispensaries allowed would it be moved [to the MVC]?” Mr. Bock asked.
“Probably not,” Mr. Hubbell said.
Mr. Hubbell said he feels the board is “sufficiently qualified” to rule on the matter, but wants the commission to have the option to review the project.
“I think our board could deal with all of the issues of this application,” said Mr. Hubbell. “With that said, I still feel we should give a discretionary referral to the MVC and if they choose to send it right back to us, I have no problem with that. They should have a chance to bite at the apple.”