LEE — A small, vocal group view a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in town as a gateway to recreational pot use, which is on the statewide ballot in the fall, and to more crime.
Several residents — including Lee Police Chief Jeffrey Roosa — told the Select Board on Tuesday night they believe Mass Alternative Care is setting itself up for retail sales of marijuana, if the Massachusetts electorate approves it Nov. 8.
Four years ago, voters legalized the cultivation and sale of marijuana products for treatment of pain and a number of chronic medical conditions.
"We're calling it medical marijuana, but it's a back door to an open dispensary," Roosa said.
The Springfield-based company has a letter of intent to buy two lots totaling 4 acres within the Quarry Hill Business Park off Route 102 from the Lee Community Development Corp., according to company representatives.
The company plans to grow the medical marijuana at a yet-to-be-built facility in Chicopee. It would be sold at the Chicopee site as well as at dispensaries in Amherst and Lee.
The 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot dispensary, nearly two miles from Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike, could be operational by March 2018, ready to serve more than 1,000 people, company officials said.
At least one tenant of the commercial development, Ray Murray Inc., sees the dispensary as a security risk.
"We think there's the potential for increased crime [at Quarry Hill]," said President and CEO Michael Hopsicker. The company is a distributor of propane gas equipment and appliances.
But Don Hunter, a Lee attorney representing the dispensary company, said his client has found most tenants support the facility and he noted Lee voters backed the 2012 medical marijuana referendum.
He also refuted claims the proposed dispensary has a beeline to retail sales, should voters legalize adult recreational use.
"Yes, it makes sense for this site," he said, "but the zoning doesn't allow it."
Hunter said a Planning Board special permit or zoning variance would be needed to combine medical and recreational sales under one roof.
The dispensary would be open seven days a week and only to Massachusetts residents allowed to purchase up to a 60-day supply of medical marijuana, according to the documents filed with the town. The company also would have a pharmacist on staff overseeing all three planned dispensaries.
Company officials have said patients must get a prescription referral from a physician and a medical marijuana identification card issued by the state Department of Public Health.
The company still needs the state to sign off on the Lee site and meet the applicable town zoning and planning regulations — all predicated on receiving a letter of nonopposition from the three selectmen.
The board again postponed a decision until August, having done the same after initially reviewing the project on July 5. The board then wanted to have more public input before taking a vote. Now the board is seeking a Host Community Agreement in which the company, which is a nonprofit, would make an offer of a payment in lieu of sales tax and other applicable fees.
However, the dispensary building itself and land it would sit on are still subject to local real estate taxes, according to the company and town officials.
Select Board Chairman Thomas Wickham wants to see a monetary offer by the board's next meeting Aug. 2.
"We will vote on [the letter] in two weeks, one way or another," he said.
The board member most likely to say "no" is David Consolati, who has been skeptical of the project and the company's position it is solely focused on medical marijuana.
"My concern, if the [November question] passes, we will get inundated because your facility is in place," he said.
Selectwoman Patricia Carlino remains neutral on the controversial issue.
"I am open to both sides," she said.
Massachusetts Alternative Care is one of four medical marijuana firms vying for a dispensary in Berkshire County
Heka Health is currently seeking DPH site approval for Pittsfield, Westfield and West Springfield. Manna Wellness and Khem Organics are the only other two firms seeking to open a dispensary in Pittsfield.
Mass Alternative Care is controlled by a board of directors with the administration led by President and CEO Kevin Collins, a former on-ice official for the National Hockey League.