Pot business delays irk town officials

  • Silver Therapeutics Inc. will be opening a recreational marijuana shop at 5 South Main St. in Orange. Staff Photo/David McLellan

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2020 10:35:59 PM
Modified: 1/14/2020 10:35:11 PM

ORANGE — Silver Therapeutics Inc. wants to start selling marijuana in Orange this winter, but that won’t happen until the state inspects the store gives the go-ahead.

There are two marijuana retailers and six manufacturers/growers the town has approved via Host Community Agreements and letters of nonopposition.

Silver Therapeutics is the closest to actually opening up shop at 5 South Main St., with interior construction well underway at the downtown location.

But it’s taking a long time for Silver Therapeutics and all of the other companies approved to actually start operations, much to the frustration of town officials like Selectboard Vice Chair Jane Peirce.

“We voted for it. People are waiting for it. We need the income. Where the hell is it?” said Peirce at the last Selectboard meeting.

Orange needs the money a marijuana shop would bring — both from taxes and the 3 percent of revenue, up to $500,000 a year, Silver Therapeutic’s has agreed to give the town. The state just needs to license and inspect the business.

“There are towns all over Massachusetts, and they are the more affluent towns in Massachusetts, where the state permits are already cleared,” Peirce said. “And they already have retail stores, and they already have their operations going, and the towns are already reaping the benefit of the funds that we are allowed to get.”

Massachusetts voters decided to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, and there are now 33 “adult-use” retail marijuana stores across the state.

Silver Therapeutics received approval from the town of Orange during the summer of 2018, and initially eyed a fall opening that year. Then, the projected opening was pushed back to winter of 2019 — “No later than” February, said Chief Financial Officer Brendan McKee — before being pushed to the fall of 2019, and now winter of 2020.

In that time, Orange residents even passed a bylaw limiting the number of marijuana stores allowed to operate in town to 20 percent of the town’s off-site liquor licenses. Orange has eight such licenses issued, so two pot shops would be allowed under the bylaw.

Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker agreed with Peirce that waiting for the state to give its approvals has been “frustrating.” Voelker said she has inquired about the status of state licensing for stores set to open in Orange, and has been told the state is licensing businesses “in batches.”

“Someone’s deciding who’s in the batch,” Peirce said.

According to Peirce, the town of Great Barrington received around $1 million in the first six months of having a retail marijuana outlet. But Orange, which has been struggling financially, with budget cuts and a failed tax override last year, still waits.

“Great Barrington does not need the marijuana money as much as Orange does,” Peirce said.

“We need that money, and I want to know why the state is not moving to give us permits,” she added. “It feels like a discrimination. It feels like an environmental justice issue, that they’re assisting more affluent communities before they’re helping us to site these businesses.”

The Selectboard resolved to lobby local legislators and pen letters to the state in an attempt to move the process along.

Selectboard member Bill Wrigley said the issue is “political” and, as with most things, the larger, urban areas wield more influence on Beacon Hill and will generally get their way first. However, he said the town might be able to push ahead of other small towns waiting for approval by going to legislators for help.

The process of getting state approval to operate a recreational marijuana dispensary is lengthy and expensive. First, prospective businesses must pay a $30,000 “Management and Operations Profile” fee and a $1,500 “Application of Intent,” as well as provide financial account statements and a Certificate of Good Standing proving tax compliance.

Businesses must provide the state detailed management and operations profiles, “location interest” documents and submit to background checks before even receiving provisional licensure. Then, final licensure is given following an inspection of the ready-to-open business. This is all in addition to gaining approval from the municipality.

According to Voelker, the other company looking to open up a retail marijuana shop, ELEV8 Cannabis LLC, also has property on South Main Street, but has “not done anything” with the property or with its property on Main Street in Athol, and is a “big question mark.” She said the town provided a document to the state showing the company was fully in compliance in Orange.

Voelker also gave an update on the other companies the town has approved, all of which are manufacturers and growers, but said Silver Therapeutics will surely be operating first: Diem Cannabis has leased property on Route 202, and is “getting closer” but not yet licensed by the state; Fidelity Wellness Center Inc and KT Capital Group LLC in the industrial park are working through the planning board processes; and PHA Industries Inc., which already manufactures chemicals at the Randall Pond Industrial Park, has shelved the idea of marijuana manufacturing.

Other companies have approached Orange with interest, Voelker said, including one that wishes to have a growing operation on the third floor of the Orange Innovation Center.

Silver Therapeutics plans to have a growing facility at 158 Governor Dukakis Drive in addition to its South Main Street store. The company already operates a recreational marijuana store in Williamstown, having opened last April.

According to Chief Financial Officer Brendan McKee, Silver Therapeutics has had customers from 62 different U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Of its first first 50,000 customers, close to 20,000 were from Massachusetts, 15,000 from New York and 10,000 from Vermont. The oldest customer Silver Therapeutics has had was a 95-year-old man from West Palm Beach and the customer’s average age is around 40, he said.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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