Franklin businessman plans to apply for medical marijuana dispensary license

Last modified: 12/10/2014 12:41:20 AM
Franklin business owner Paul Morrissette of Loudon has his eyes on a new venture, one he thinks will provide a remedy to the city’s ailing downtown: a medical marijuana dispensary.

Morrissette is working with a subsidiary of MariMed Advisors of Massachusetts in anticipation of the state Department of Health and Human Services releasing a request for applications for licenses.

Morrissette, who owns Regal Auction Services on Central Street and several other commercial properties downtown, said he initially opposed the state’s approval of a medical marijuana law in 2013. He came around after researching the effects similar laws have had in other states.

“I’m not in this for humanitarian reasons,” said Morrissette. “This is a growing industry, growing by leaps and bounds. . . . This is an opportunity to find a business that can be an anchor, and bring other businesses to town.”

After a few months of research, he concluded he wouldn’t be able to develop a strong application without some help. “This isn’t just like filling out some forms at the DMV. . . . This is not a book report,” he said.

He has spent about $40,000 developing the application so far, and he expects the entire process to cost as much as $100,000.

By working with MariMed, he has a team of “very expensive people, engineers, attorneys who have done this before” creating his application. “If there’s 100 points possible on the application, I plan on getting 101.”

MariMed has worked with permit holders in California, Washington, D.C., Arizona, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware and Nevada, according to the company website.

Sara Gullickson is executive director of dispensarypermits.com, the MariMed subsidiary Morrissette has been working with. Each facility is different based on the state’s unique laws, she said, but Morrissette pointed to the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, which opened in Providence, R.I., in 2013, as a site he’d like to emulate.

About 4,800 patients use the Slater center; Morrissette estimated 3,000 patients could use his site when it’s operating at full capacity, since Franklin is about 30 minutes from five hospitals and an hour from about a dozen.

“This is an industry that is new and niche,” Gullickson said. “States that roll this out haven’t done this before. . . . Our team is the industry expert, and we help build inventory control plans, cultivation plans – the things that are difficult to put together in a market that doesn’t have experience.”

New Hampshire has until Jan. 23 to select at least two “alternative treatment centers,” as long as at least two applications score high enough to meet the department’s standards. At most, the state will license four centers divided among four distinct geographical areas.

The department hasn’t yet released details about how it will score applications, but the rules for the program provide some insight into the layers of requirements for running a successful center: plans for security procedures and storage policies, descriptions of the strains of marijuana that will be cultivated and sold, and procedures for setting prices.

Included in that list is that within 90 days of being authorized to operate, a center will have to provide the state with written approval from local officials certifying its location complies with health and building codes, as well as zoning ordinances.

Morrissette has several potential sites for the dispensary, with an average of about 7,500 square feet, and several potential sites for a cultivation facility, with an average of about 50,000 square feet, he said.

He has a letter from Planning and Zoning Administrator Richard Lewis saying the city’s ordinances don’t prohibit the dispensary or cultivation facility in the zones where the potential sites are located.

In almost all cases, Morrissette owns the building with little or no debt, or he has support from the owners.

He also has support from abutters, including Todd Workman, the owner of several downtown buildings.

Workman, like Morrissette, said he was initially skeptical of the idea.

He feared a negative public reaction, that the center could increase stigma of downtown Franklin. He feared the center could lead to an increase in crime and youth drug use.

Like Morrissette, he said research allayed his worries. A study from Rhode Island last spring showed no increase in self-reported use of marijuana among teens in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. He believes the security required for the dispensary will decrease crime in the neighborhood, and polls show more than two-thirds of New Hampshire residents support legalized medical marijuana, so there shouldn’t be much stigma, he said.

He said he thinks the center and the cultivation facility will generate about 50 jobs in Franklin, and he hopes the center will attract alternative and naturopathic health practices, health food stores and other businesses to Franklin’s downtown.

“It makes sense, and it’s going to happen somewhere,” he said. “It might as well happen in Franklin where this could become a catalyst to jump-start revitalization downtown – if done right and with the right players – and I believe Paul is bringing together the right players.

“This will be really discreet and upscale. It has to be. By state law there can’t be any signs with marijuana leaves or other paraphernalia outside,” he said. “It will be so far away from the first gut reaction that people have, that I had.”

Not everyone agrees. Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield said he opposes the project, and the state’s medical marijuana law.

“Our Drug Task Force received a federal grant to combat substance abuse, including marijuana specifically,” Merrifield said. “This strikes me as at odds with the aims of our task force and the goals of our city. . . . I don’t think that marijuana is medicine.”

Morrissette said he is aware of detractors, and he’s undeterred.

“When this is all said and done, I want to convince the naysayers,” he said. “I want the mom who thinks poorly of medical marijuana because she caught her son with a joint to think, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that about the way the program will work.’ ”



(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)


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