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State OKs medical pot companies for Peabody

From the Salem News

PEABODY — Two pot companies have received the go-ahead from the state to operate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Next, Wellness Connection of Massachusetts Inc. and Phytotherapy Inc. will go before the City Council for a special permit. City officials expect to take up both applications in six to eight weeks.

Wellness Connection has a business address at 30 Railroad Ave. in Revere, where it also has a cultivation center. It is seeking to build a dispensary at vacant land off Route 1. Meanwhile, next door, Phytotherapy, based out of 25 Newbury St., wants to occupy the Brother’s Kouzina property and move the restaurant to a new location.

The state Department of Public Health reviewed the applications and last week issued Provisional Certificates for Registration, which allows the companies to move forward in Peabody.

In addition to special permits, the applicants will have to negotiate host agreements with Mayor Ted Bettencourt. He said in a recent interview that he wants the City Council to be involved in those talks as well, and will only begin that process if the council grants the permits. The city would receive 3 percent of the gross revenue from the companies.

A third company, Sanctuary Medicinals Inc., also went in front of the council in November to seek a letter of non-opposition —which was required in order to apply with the state — but has not received a provisional certificate. The company never submitted a siting profile for Peabody — it was interested in the building occupied by Don’s Power Equipment at 29 Newbury St. — but Sanctuary did receive a certificate last week to operate in Danvers.

The company plans to open a dispensary this spring at 2 Electronics Ave. in Danvers, just up Route 1 on the southbound side. CEO Jason Sidman did not return requests for comment Monday.

Wellness Connection of Massachusetts did receive site approval as well as the provisional license to operate in Peabody, confirmed spokesperson Don Martelli.

“We are full steam ahead,” Martelli said Monday. “At this point, we are crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s. We are looking forward to working with (the) city and developing a project that supports the community.”

In addition to obtaining permission from the state for medical marijuana, Phytotherapy is seeking approval from the new Cannabis Control Commission to sell the drug recreationally in the state.

Phytotherapy is one of 20 registered marijuana dispensaries the commission is reviewing on an expedited basis. The commission released that list last week, saying the companies will be able to apply for recreational marijuana business licenses starting April 17. The commission, however, cannot issue licenses until June 1.

Last fall, the company promised city officials that Phytotherapy would not seek permission for retail sales. According to the company’s attorney, that is still the case.

Attorney Jim Smith said that even though the business address listed on the retail application is 25 Newbury St., Phytotherapy will only seek permission for medical marijuana in the city.

“Phytotherapy, as a company, may apply for adult use in other communities, but not in Peabody,” he said.

Under the law, the company is entitled to three recreational, or adult use, marijuana licenses and three medical marijuana licenses in the state. It will have one location in Peabody and is looking for second location outside of the city. Whether that community allows recreational pot will determine which type of use Phytotherapy will apply for. Smith added that the company received both approvals within 10 days.

There is a temporary zoning ban now through Dec. 31 on recreational pot in Peabody. The mayor had urged the City Council to permanently ban recreational pot shops from coming to the city, but a motion to that effect last November failed by one vote. Another vote is scheduled for May 10 with the council, where Bettencourt is prepared to make his plea again.

“Although I am supportive of medical marijuana, I am vehemently opposed to the sale of recreational marijuana and the establishment of pot shops here in Peabody,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “I’m truly hopeful that the city will support my request for a permanent ban on recreational marijuana.”

The zoning district for medical dispensaries encompasses four parcels on the southbound side of Route 1, near Bertucci’s and the ramps to I-95.

Brother’s Kouzina already falls within that zone and owners Penny and Jimmy Christopher are proposing to move the restaurant elsewhere in Peabody so that their nephew, Alex Athanas, president and co-founder of Phytotherapy, can open there. The restaurant, as it stands, is 4,860 square feet. The exact location for a new Brother’s restaurant is not yet known.

Wellness Connection would build its facility on a vacant 2 acres at 0 Newbury St., an open parcel on the backside of Don’s Power Equipment.

Councilors Jon Turco, Joel Saslaw and Tom Rossignoll traveled to Maine at the beginning of April to tour two medical marijuana facilities run by Wellness Connection. The nonprofit company has run a dispensary in Portland, Maine, for the past six years, which is discreetly located in a brick building near the downtown.

Mary Markos may be contacted at 978-338-2660 or mmarkos@salemnews.com.