WESTFIELD – Another in a series of Resolutions to authorize the mayor to sign a Host Community Agreement (HCA) went before the Legislative & Ordinance committee on Dec 29, this one for a marijuana testing laboratory.
Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said that over the past four to six months, he has been working with Megan Dobrow and her team at Safetiva Labs for the siting of a marijuana testing lab at 109 Apremont Way, formerly Berkshire Industries. He said the lab will occupy a 5,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. building on the grounds, and their plan had been approved by the Planning Board in October.
Miller said after researching testing labs in the Commonwealth, the city did not include a 3 percent community impact fee in the HCA. There are only two other testing labs in Massachusetts, in Framingham and Salem. Miller said he spoke with former Westfield Councilor Chistopher Keefe in Framingham about the lab in their town, who verified a zero community impact fee, as did the town of Salem. He said the HCA included a 24 month start provision.
Blake Mensing, an attorney for Safetiva Labs, said as an independent testing lab the principals are excluded from being involved in any other marijuana business. He also said that the volume of product going through the facility is low compared to a grower or retailer.
Mensing said the Cannabis Control Commission reviews testing labs on an expedited basis. He said the business is also woman-owned, which is also expedited. He said the group expected to submit their application to the CCC within a week or two, and would expect a provisional license in four months.
Owner Megan Dobrow, a Hampshire College tenured professor with a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and Matt Arsenault, a chemist and cannabis testing consultant, also spoke about Safetiva at the meeting.
“Our job is to ensure public health and safety. We are scientists at heart, our goal is to make sure what medical patients and consumers are using is safe,” said Dobrow.
She said the lab will test for contaminants and potency and make sure the product is labeled the way it’s supposed to be. She said once the application is submitted, the investors are ready, and they aim to open by the end of the summer.
Dobrow said they want to be good citizens of Westfield, and are currently doing research on organizations they can support to make an impact in the community. She said they were originally looking at Northampton, but decided in early spring that Westfield was a better location due to the turnpike exit which gives easy access to the whole state.
Dobrow also said that testing labs are not buying or selling cannabis, and there have been no complaints of odor, noise, or traffic at the other labs. “As scientists, educators and parents, we are committed to making sure the industry is as safe as possible,” she added.
L&O chairman William Onyski asked what percentage of the marijuana is tested. Dobrow said three grams are tested per 10 pound batch. With edibles, a sample has to be taken from each batch produced at the same time under the same conditions. She said the state has an alphanumeric code tracking system on all cannabis products.
Onyski also asked if the lab would test the percentage of THC in the product. Dobrow said they test the potency of any cannabinoid like THC, to make sure it’s labelled accurately.
Dobrow added that all other facilities that have been approved need testing. “The industry is at a standstill until there are testing labs,” she said.
Michael Burns asked how the city will benefit without an impact fee. Miller responded that the economic benefit to this project will be property tax and the generation of new jobs.
Dobrow said they will be hiring five onsite employees to start, but at capacity, there will be 30 employees. She said the lowest level scientist will be a technician, who will need a bachelor’s degree in the sciences.
After more questions and answers, the committee voted 2 to 1 to approve the recommendation to the City Council, with Onyski and Burns in favor, and James Adams opposed, saying he was sticking to the way he’s been voting due to previously voiced objections to the marijuana industry.