SOUTHWICK – The Planning Board held its first public hearing on a request for a medical marijuana application this week.
Paul Dellatorre is seeking approval from the board to operate a marijuana growing business at 27 Hudson Drive. Dellatorre owns the property, which is already equipped with greenhouses from a previous rose growing business. His attorney Richard M. Evans of Northampton spoke on his behalf Tuesday night and said the land would be leased to a grower if a special permit was approved.
“Nothing has been signed,” Evans said. “He has been approached by several interested parties and he has had discussions, but there are no plans or deals.
“Mr. Dellatorre wants to establish the use of the premises as a permitted use and to let the town know about this.”
Dellatorre would essentially lease the property for the commercial use of growing medical marijuana. Evans said he is not looking to “go into the business.”
“We are not looking to be a dispensary at 27 Hudson Drive,” Evans said. “We are not doing a retail dispensary.”
Evans cited a lengthy state regulation concerning dispensaries and said there are no regulations for growing medical marijuana yet. However, Evans said he believes they would be similar to the ones in place and Dellatorre would follow those regulations, which include very strict security measures.
Evans said there would be no affect to air quality, groundwater or traffic, and added that Dellatorre would like to draw little to no attention to the property when it comes to signage. Updates would be made to the Title V system, and the property would be completely fenced and secure. The plants would all be grown inside the existing greenhouses and Evans said Dellatorre would try to be as environmentally friendly as possible, using sun-grown methods rather than electric lamps.
Planning Board Chairman Douglas Moglin said the board’s biggest concern is that although Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana use at the polls, federal law still prohibits its use.
“The largest issue here is, if we issue a permit, is it going against federal regulations,” said Moglin.
Evans said state laws have changed and federal changes could take years.
“If we wait for the feds, we’ll wait forever,” said Evans. “I urge you to disregard the federal law. The federal law is not infallible.”
Moglin said he disagreed “a little bit” with that.
“This board is not free to render any decision it wants,” Moglin said. “It has to pass muster.”
A suggestion was made to approve the special permit with conditions for the federal law. Moglin was not in favor of that option.
“We have never issued a conditional permit, ever,” he said. “This is a cart before the horse thing. My concern from the very beginning is how does a local board do something that is illegal under federal law.”
Moglin acknowledged that the majority of voters in the Commonwealth – including in Southwick – approved a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana, but he said it is still illegal under federal law.
Police Chief David Ricardi spoke against the special permit, noting that the high school and public library are in close proximity to Hudson Drive.
Evans said while they are nearby, they are more than 1,000 feet away and the regulations he has seen require a 500-foot buffer.
Resident Joyce Zippie spoke in favor of the use of the property.
“Marijuana has been grown in the corn fields and tobacco fields as long as I’ve known,” she said. “I’m against it and I voted against it.”
Zippie said despite her personal feelings on the subject, because voters passed the question, she believes a local property owner should have the right to profit from the business.
“Marijuana can help sick people and old people and I don’t want to see it in kids’ hands, but I would like you to consider this,” said Zippie.
Another resident spoke in favor of the permit and said if the town could profit from it, the board should consider it. Two abutters of the property asked questions regarding well heads and future meetings but did not speak for or against the application.
The hearing was continued until Sept. 3.