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December 14. 2013 12:50AM

Mass. pot farm seeks support

AMESBURY, Mass. (MCT) - Faced with mounting opposition from city officials and local residents, a Newburyport-based medical marijuana company seeking to move into Amesbury is speaking out in hopes of clearing up some of the negative perceptions that have been circulating around town.

Alternative Therapies Group, Inc., one of two companies seeking licenses to open medical marijuana cultivation facilities in town, posted an open letter to the people of Amesbury on its website last week to lay out its intentions and ask residents to contact councilors.

ATG's plan to build a marijuana growing facility in Amesbury has become a hot political issue. Last month the majority of city councilors rejected an effort by Council President Anne Ferguson and Councilor Robert Lavoie to endorse a letter to the state stating the city had no opposition to the plan. Days later, outgoing Mayor Thatcher Kezer filed his own letter stating no opposition, without informing councilors.

ATG said that if it receives a license from the state Department of Public Health, its facility will be used only for cultivation and processing and will comply with all regulations laid out by the state and local authorities. It plans to open a sales location in Salem.

The letter also addresses the proposed moratorium on medical marijuana development, which is expected to be voted on by the City Council before the end of the year, and if approved, would halt any medical marijuana development for three months.

"Neither ATG nor anyone else is proposing to dispense medical marijuana in Amesbury," the letter reads. "Amesbury's current zoning laws have adequately provided regulations for siting of light manufacturing and agricultural uses for many years. Cultivating and processing of medical marijuana fit appropriately within these current regulations."

Chris Edwards, who heads the Newburyport-based nonprofit, expanded on that by saying that even though the DPH only issues one license - Registered Marijuana Dispensary licenses - the applicants have to provide a specific address for where they're going to dispense, process and cultivate their product.

If ATG were awarded a license and later decided they wanted to stop dispensing in Salem and consolidate their operations in Amesbury, they wouldn't be allowed to just start using their cultivation facility to dispense without first going through a lengthy public process, he said.

"There is a differentiation as far as the facility; ATG and all other applicants had to specify a specific address for dispensing, processing and cultivation," Edwards said. "It's all one license, and our application is to cultivate and process in one facility in Amesbury and dispense from another, which happens to be in Salem."

He added that considering how the state is only issuing 35 licenses for the entire state, it would make no sense to open a dispensary in Amesbury from a geographic perspective.

"The DPH wants to evenly distribute the licenses where the people are," Edwards said. "So being a border town, it doesn't make sense to put a dispensary in Amesbury. They need to be put in accessible places, and that's not going to change unless the state boundaries change."

Edwards said he understands and even supports the idea of imposing a temporary moratorium on dispensaries, but imposing a moratorium on cultivation facilities as well could potentially inhibit his organization's ability to comply with strict state timelines and possibly force the group to look elsewhere to open its facility.

"If the moratorium does go through, it will prevent ATG and the other applicant from meeting a timeline that's acceptable to DPH," Edwards said. "If that happens, we'll both have to consider locating to another community, and our proposal goes away."

That probably sounds great for opponents of medical marijuana development in Amesbury, who fear that the industry will have a harmful impact on the community and potentially create a public safety hazard, but Edwards stressed that the company is run by experts who have no criminal record, and he is confident the business would have a positive economic impact on the city.


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