Firm again seeks to grow medical marijuana in Becket

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BECKET — An Ipswich firm is trying a third time to build a medical marijuana growing operation in Becket, pledging to pay property taxes even though its nonprofit status doesn't require it.

A proposal by Ipswich Pharmaceutical Associates faces a public hearing March 23. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Town Hall at 557 Main St.

The project, on a 42-acre parcel off Johnson Road on the west side of town, would create a second cultivation facility in Berkshire County. Another is being constructed by Khem Organics at 501 Dalton Ave. in Pittsfield.

William H. Elovirta, chairman of Becket's Select Board, said he believes residents will turn out in numbers for the public hearing, as they did at two earlier ones.

Last August, residents packed a hearing to speak against a plan by Ipswich Pharmaceutical to build on property off Yokum Pond Road. In that case, the board voted 2-1 against providing a "letter of support or non-opposition."

The company did better in December, when after another well-attended hearing it won the board's backing for a facility on Main Street. But that real estate deal fell apart, forcing Ipswich to look again for a site, according to Elovirta.

Joseph McCarthy, the company's president, confirmed Tuesday his venture is moving forward but said he wanted to reserve comment on the latest proposal until next week's meeting.

"They've been very good to us," he said of people in Becket.

Meantime, the town of Hinsdale has granted it permission to create a growing facility, McCarthy said, giving the firm another option.

Elovirta said that while the company's Yokum Pond Road project drew heavy opposition, that's not the case with the newest site.

"I haven't had any calls or heard anyone voice opposition to it," he said.

He noted that properties in the Yokum Pond Road neighborhood have higher values — and said that might have been a factor.

Last August, one resident, Bob Hersh, called his road "pristine," adding, "It's one of the most beautiful places in the world. I bought here to get away from industry."

Michael Lavery, of Becket, who supported the Yokum Pond Road project and has been following the company's efforts, said it secured approval this month from the town Planning Board.

The Becket site would not serve as a dispensary, limiting the amount of traffic that would be generated. Elovirta estimated that there would be two or three trips a week to ship the medical marijuana.

The company earlier estimated that it would hire 10 to 15 local employees.

Ipswich Pharmaceutical received a provisional certificate for a dispensary in Ipswich from the state Department of Public Health on Aug. 12, 2016, shortly before it faced opposition at its first hearing in Becket.

Under state law, medical marijuana dispensaries can only sell cannabis products produced within the state by the same company overseeing the dispensary.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.

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