Informational public hearing helps bring awareness to medical marijuana facility

SOUTHWICK – People throughout the town gathered at the Southwick Town Hall auditorium for an informational public hearing on Monday night. The Select Board hosted the hearing in regards to the medical marijuana facility that is being proposed as a retail store on 185 College Hwy.

HealthWise Foundation, Inc. is the non-profit organization that is requesting the facility that used to be a bank. Representing HealthWise at the hearing was James McMahon and Christopher Acosta.

Town moderator James Putnam started off the informational public hearing with McMahon and Acosta presenting what their company is all about and their intentions with their site proposal.

The initial importance for the two members of HealthWise was to emphasize the meaning of why they feel there is a need for the medical marijuana facility.

People that have serious illnesses like cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Hepatitis C, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease as well as other debilitating conditions would be qualified to be a member of the facility.

CBD’s (Cannabidiol) is a chemical that is found in a marijuana plant. With recreational marijuana, where THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the component, CBD’s don’t produce a euphoric effect. Acosta discussed how the CBD’s aren’t designed to have the same “high” effect that recreational marijuana does as there are no psychoactive effects.

“They increase the blood flow to the brain,” said Acosta.

Throughout the presentation, McMahon and Acosta continued to state the true meaning of medical marijuana.

Christopher Acosta of HealthWise Foundation, talks about the importance of CBD's, the chemical component in medical marijuana. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

Christopher Acosta of HealthWise Foundation, talks about the importance of CBD’s, the chemical component in medical marijuana. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

“This is real medicine with real results and a real effect,” said McMahon. “HealthWise Foundation has no interest in recreational marijuana.”

Being that the property on 185 College Hwy used to be a bank, McMahon and Acosta elaborated on how the building would be a perfect fit for a medical marijuana facility because of the security.

After people are declared patients once all the proper background checks are done, medical marijuana patients would have an identification card in order to gain access inside the facility.

The first entrance that the patient would go through would have them use their card to get access which would lead them to a double door and then to a security guard who would check the patient’s information and make sure it is valid.

According to McMahon, there will be a one to one ratio with security to staff. At first, it is expected that there will be anywhere from 15 to 25 full-time workers at the facility and 10 to 15 part-time workers.

Once the presentation concluded, Putnam handed over the hearing to the public. It was discovered that residents of Southwick in attendance for the hearing were concerned about the true meaning of HealthWise Foundation’s main objective.

Rose Hannah, a resident and former police officer, strongly believes that McMahon and Acosta are trying to take advantage of people that want marijuana.

“Their goal is to sell weed and profit, not help the community,” said Hannah.

As HealthWise has a 153,000 square foot medical marijuana facility in North Brookfield, Mass. where all the processing happens, Hannah expressed how transporting the marijuana is another drawback that could affect Southwick and the communities where the transporting is passing by.

“Entertaining this movement is a waste of our time and resources,” said Hannah.

Steve and Darris Grano, live right near the proposed facility and were concerned about their safety and the potential issues that the facility could cause for them.

“I just feel like it’s going to kill my property value,” said Steve Grano. “I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Put it across the street from my house.””

Southwick Police Chief Dave Ricardi gives his opinion on the topic of medical marijuana to the public in attendance. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

Southwick Police Chief Dave Ricardi gives his opinion on the topic of medical marijuana to the public in attendance. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

Several people in the crowd felt that recreational use would be a plan in the future for HealthWise. McMahon remained to say that they aren’t ever going to have recreational marijuana. If the facility was approved by the Select Board, McMahon said that he would request in the community host agreement that there would be prohibition against recreational use.

“HealthWise Foundation has no interest in recreational marijuana,” said McMahon.

Southwick Police Chief Dave Ricardi then addressed the public on the concern from the attending citizens about recreational use.

“I’m the biggest proponent probably in this room against recreational marijuana,” said Ricardi.

Chief Ricardi also feels that aspect of medical marijuana could be a positive as he has seen the positive outcomes for people personally close to him.

“I do have personal experience with people who have issues with health problems,” said Ricardi. “There is a good side to this because there are people out here who need it.”

Select Board Chairman Russ Fox then reiterated to the public what the main importance was of the hearing and that there has been no progress to move forward as of yet.

“That’s the purpose of tonight’s hearing, is to get some input,” said Fox. “We have not approved anything.”

Despite the fact that the Select Board has not approved HealthWise for the facility yet, citizens in the public didn’t let up on their thoughts of what should be done moving forward.

“I wish we could vote on it,” said Darris Grano. “I wish in November they would have it on the ballot.”

Although the majority of the public that spoke up were highly against the medical marijuana facility, McMahon ended the hearing by addressing the public what HealthWise is truly trying to accomplish.

“I hope to have the opportunity to prove to you that we’re here to do otherwise,” said McMahon. “We do not want to make this a detriment of the community.”

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