Belmont Moves On Host Agreement Negotiations With Two Pot Shops

Photo: A Mint dispensary in Tempe, Arizona

Belmont has established its team to broker a deal with a pair of firms seeking to open retail marijuana establishments on Pleasant Street.

The Select Board voted on Monday, May 18 to have Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Office of Community Development Director Glenn Clancy and Board member Adam Dash to negotiate the Host Community Agreement with the owners of Mint Retail Facilities LLC and Cal Verde Naturals.

Meant to mitigate the local impacts of the businesses such as increased traffic, host agreements are limited to five years from the day the dispensaries open their doors, and the fees paid to the town cannot exceed three percent of the businesses gross sales.

Late last year, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting communities from gouging pot shops with added fees and “contributions” above the three percent threshold. In 2019, Falls River Mayor Jasiel Correia was arrested for extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businesses by accepting bribes in exchange for license approval.

The host agreement is one of two requirements – the other is for the applicants to hold public outreach meetings in the community – the businesses must have before they can apply for a license from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, according to Blake Mensing, who is an owner of a dispensary.

In addition to the host agreement negotiations and the applicant’s public meeting, residents will have a third opportunity to speak out concerning the businesses when they go before the Planning Board.

Arizona-based Mint, which has three other applications in the state, is seeking to rehab the Lenny’s Service Center site at 768 Pleasant St. into a “world class adult-use“ retail operation.

Winchester couple Kelly and Stephen Tomasello have leased 3,600 sq.-ft. of commercial space at 1010 Pleasant St. where they hope to open Cal Verde Naturals, which will include a 2,100 square foot dispensary.

Arizona Business Express Interest In Opening Pot Shop On Pleasant Street

Photo: An image of Mint’s retail pot operation on Pleasant Street.

An Arizona-based firm described as “an industry leader in the blossoming cannabis industry” has sent a notice of intent to Belmont town officials to open a “world class adult-use“ retail marijuana dispensary on Pleasant Street where a service station is currently located.

Mint Retail Facilities LLC which runs a pair of retail shops in the Phoenix suburbs of Guadalupe and Mesa hopes to open its first Massachusetts operation at 768 Pleasant St. “no later than Dec. 31, 2020” if all goes to plan.

The one-story building will be constructed where Lenny’s Service Center is currently operating, adjacent to My Other Kitchen and Auto Engineering Body Work and Cityside Subaru.

Shops near Tempe.

The firm, owned by Eiavan Sahara, is concurrently seeking state cultivation and manufacturing licenses in Palmer and Beverly.

Mint joins Winchester couple Kelly and Stephen Tomasello who have expressed interest in turning a commercial storage site at 1010 Pleasant St. into Cal Verde Naturals, 3,600 square foot single story “retail wellness shop.”

While both ventures will need to commit to discussions on host community agreements, no time line has been established with either group, said Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator, to the Select Board on Monday, Dec. 16.

The town is currently drafting guidelines with the help of Town Counsel George Hall for applicants to follow during the licensing process.

Once the business receives a provisional license from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission – following the signing of a host community agreement with the town and the issuance of a special permit from the Planning Board – it will begin construction and open its operation within 180 days.

According to a business plan sent to town officials, the firm will seek to operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The building will have limited access areas for security and operational reasons with “buzz-in” electronic/mechanical entry systems. The firm’s letter to the town details other areas of the operation including odor controls, waste disposal, storage, inventory and transportation of weed.

The store will sell flowers, concentrates and extracts, infused edibles, accessories and branded merchandise with produces coming from its own manufacturing plants as well as other suppliers including providing “priority consideration to product cultivated in Belmont by independent cultivators.”

One area Mint hopes to cultivate is a delivery service which would go counter to one of the two town restrictions placed in the marijuana bylaw; the other being a 25 year old age restriction on the purchase of pot.

In a profile by the Spanish-language press association EFE News, its Arizona operations – located near the Arizona State University – are “visited daily by some 1,000 customers” selling everything imaginable related to the weed “from infusions to cannabis-themed T-shirts and souvenirs.” Mint’s website promotes store proportionals like a “Toasted Tuesday Sale” when customers can purchase “one gram of flower wrapped in Shatter, then submerged in Kief” for “ONLY $25.”

Mint’s most innovative offering is a first-of-its-kind medical marijuana kitchen serving up “blueberry muffins, salad, pizza, and macaroni and cheese with a dash of cannabis.”

Crunching the numbers, the firm expects to spend $1.5 million in capital costs and working capital to open the Belmont store. By its second year, the firm predicts the store will gross $9.5 million with net income of $700,000.

In addition, Mint forecasts Belmont receiving $276,000 in combined local marijuana and community impact taxes in the first year increasing to $660,000 by the fourth year. The firm said it will create 20 new jobs and pay half a million dollars in salaries and benefits.

Mint, which is also seeking to enter the Michigan market in 2020, is seeking to ride the rapidly growing cannabis retail market with forecasts of the total economic output of legal retail pot will skyrocket 150 percent from $16 billion in 2017 to $40 billion by 2021, according to BDS Analytics.

A Detroit native, Sahara started his first business at 19 with a low price auto glass repair operation before heading to Phoenix to start up a number of discount businesses. Sahara is owner of a glass repair operation for the past 11 years achieving $1 million in profits in 2018.

Winchester Couple Plans To Open Belmont’s First Pot Shop On Pleasant Street

Photo: A rendering of the proposed marijuana dispensary along Pleasant Street.

A Winchester couple has applied for a license and special permit to operate a recreational marijuana establishment on Pleasant Street.

Kelly and Stephen Tomasello have signed a five-year lease with Paul Tocci, Jr to turn a nondescript commercial storage site at 1010 Pleasant St. into Cal Verde Naturals, 3,600 square foot single story “retail wellness shop” with a large 2,100 square foot dispensary “providing consistent, high quality cannabis and cannabis products … at its proposed Adult Use Retail Marijuana Establishment,” according to the venture’s executive summery provided to the town.

The store’s proposed hours of operation would be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The business will also “invest significant dollars into converting both the exterior and interior of the premise into a first class retail establishment.” That renovation will include repaving the parking lot, which will have 36 spaces, and add state of the art security surveillance “to develop a safe and comfortable environment for employees and customer.”

In addition, the business has hired former Rochester, NH Police Chief Michael Allen as Chief of Security and who has created an extensive security plan with three levels of access control inside the operation.

“Calverde [the store’s name would use two words] will ensure sustainable business growth for years to come and prove to be an exemplary business partner with the town of Belmont,” the Tomasellos said in the summery.

Note: Cal Verde translates from Portuguese to “lime green.”

Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s Town Administrator, told the Select Board on Monday, Oct. 28 that “our next step is to meet with Community Development [Department] and start a timeline” for scheduling public hearings as well as begin negotiations with the business on a host agreement, which is essentially a fee to offset the financial impacts the businesses could “reasonably” impose on the host community.

Under the state’s Cannabis Control laws, the host agreement can not last for more than five years with fees that cannot exceed three percent of the establishment’s gross sales, on top of a three percent state tax. Municipalities can also impose “donations” above and beyond the three percent fees.

Belmont’s marijuana bylaw prohibits customers under 25 from purchasing pot and the restricts all deliveries from the site. The bylaw also limits retail pot businesses to the south Pleasant Street commercial area.

This is the Tomasello’s first venture into the burgeoning retail pot market, a business which will see US sales grow from $9.1 billion this year to $15.7 billion in 2022, according to BDS Analytics.

Kelly Tomasello, who is the company’s CEO and president, has worked in retail as a buyer and manager in California before moving back to her native New England to manage two high volume restaurants. She notes in her company bio that her interest in alternative medicine and wellness began with the birth of the Tomasello’s son who later was diagnosed with special needs. Her search for better treatment options and therapies made her more aware and accepting of non-traditional ways of self care and healthy living.

A Reading native and a 1994 Tufts grad, Stephen Tomasello, who is the company’s VP, has a quarter century in retail real estate brokerage with Atlantic Retail Properties.

Calverde is being represented by Joseph Noone of the Belmont law firm Avery, Dooley & Noone on Brighton Street.

Belmont Votes Today, Tuesday, Sept. 25: Pot Bylaw

Photo: Belmont voters head for the polls today.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Belmont votes today, Sept. 25, in a Special Town Election to determine the direction of a marijuana bylaw approved by Town Meeting in the spring.

What does your vote on the ballot question mean?

A Yes vote allows retail marijuana establishments to be licensed in Belmont and limits the number to 20 percent  of the number of “package store” licenses we have issued; currently that calculation would result in up to two licenses. This vote would also prohibit businesses that cultivate, manufacture or test marijuana from being licensed to open in Belmont.

A No vote allows retail marijuana establishments to be licensed in Belmont but there would be no limit on the number of licenses that could be issued. In addition, businesses that cultivate, manufacture or test marijuana could be licensed; likewise, there would be no limit on the number of these licenses that could be issued.

Both Yes and No votes allow the Town of Belmont to create time, place and manner Zoning Bylaws regulating where and how marijuana businesses may operate in Town, but only a Yes vote would let the Zoning Bylaw limit, directly or indirectly, the total number of retail stores allowed in Belmont. The proposed Zoning Bylaw regulating marijuana businesses is expected to be voted at the Special Town Meeting scheduled November 13th.

The Belmont Board of Health has already adopted recreational-use marijuana regulations. Marijuana licenses are issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; they not issued locally.

Polling places will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

  • Precinct 1 – Library, Assembly Room
  • Precinct 2 – Town Hall, Selectmen’s room
  • Precinct 3 – Beech Street Center, Multipurpose room
  • Precinct 4 – Butler School, Gymnasium
  • Precinct 5 – Beech Street Center, Multipurpose room
  • Precinct 6 – Fire Headquarters, 299 Trapelo Road
  • Precinct 7 – Burbank School, Gymnasium
  • Precinct 8 – Winn Brook School, Gymnasium (enter on Cross Street)

To find out whether you are registered to vote and where you vote, visit the web page:

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Should Not Place Fear-Based Regs On Burgeoning Industry

Photo: Sample jars at an existing retail operation.

To the editor:

The debate surrounding retail marijuana arises fears of the “undesirable people” that would be brought into town, fear of kids having access to marijuana, and scares about kids seeing marijuana in the window of a store (despite the fact that retailers are not allowed to display any product in the window, or have any signage that indicates that marijuana is sold there). Parents understandably do not want their kids to smoke pot. Thankfully, marijuana will not be any more present in your life, or any kids’ life if you vote ‘no’ to the Special Election Question on Tuesday, Sept. 25. 

Marijuana already exists in Belmont. The contents of the marijuana that kids currently have access to are not regulated whatsoever. Furthermore, the existence of retail marijuana has the chance to dry up the black market for a substance that is generally easier for American children to get than alcohol, which is regularly exposed to children in restaurants, stores, and advertising. 

Much of the conversation regarding this bylaw focuses on the number of retail establishments that would be allowed. I definitely don’t think that there is a market for more than two retail stores in Belmont at the moment. There should be as many establishments as the market demands, and therefore no premature limitation on what is allowed. If a no vote passes, it is highly unlikely that there will be more than two establishments in the foreseeable future.

My primary concern is that there is no logical reason to block cultivators, product manufacturers, or testing facilities. These facilities create jobs, many of which require advanced education and training and pay well. We should allow a burgeoning industry that will create quality employment opportunities in town. 

Good policymaking is evidence based. We should reject regulation that stifles economic development and doesn’t have any foreseeable social or environmental externalities. I would challenge that there is no benefit to voting for these regulations other than to appease personal biases, unfounded fears, and blatant misunderstandings of the implications of this policy. Voting no will allow for increased tax revenue in town, more quality employment opportunities for residents, potentially reduce the market for marijuana on the street, and allow adults to consume marijuana in the safest possible way if they choose to do so.

Jeremy Romanul

Trowbridge Street

Town, League Seek To Clear The Haze Over Pending Marijuana Bylaw Vote

Photo: If Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski is baffled by the marijuana ballot next week, so are a lot of Belmontians.

Ok, let’s go over this once more. Belmont is voting on marijuana again despite the state legalizing pot sales to adults statewide in 2016, just this time if you vote “yes” there’ll be less pot use in town and if you vote “no,” the town will be open to more marijuana businesses coming here.

What? Like, now I’m really confused.

And the likelihood that many Belmontians will bring this same level of bewilderment to the polls next Tuesday, Sept. 25, has prompted both the town and local nonpartisan advocacy group to step forward to “clear the haze” concerning the marijuana ballot question.

The Belmont League of Women Voters Educational Fund is holding an informational session on the ballot question on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St. The league’s Study Committee on Marijuana will provide information on the issue. The league has also invited Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman to be available to answer questions.

“Since Town Meeting in May, the Town Clerk’s office has received many phone calls and visits from voters who are confused and puzzled about the available choices,” said Cushman.

Voters will be asked to either accept or reject a new bylaw allowing Belmont to “opt-out” of permitting the five pot-related industries authorized under state law with one exception, which is up to two pot stores located in three commercial business areas around town. If the voters reject the bylaw, Belmont would be compelled to allow four marijuana business – if they applied – to be located in town:

  • Retail marijuana stores
  • Marijuana product manufacturers
  • Marijuana cultivators
  • Marijuana testing facilities

While seemingly straightforward, the major issue residents have is the language on the ballot itself, which reads as a legal notice residents receive on the back of their credit card statement. The reason for the legalize lingo is because the state’s Campaign Finance law allows only the actual language appearing on the ballot which was written by the town counsel. No explanation, no clarification. 

View the ballot here.

And that is what has election watchers worried.

“Yes, folks will get confused on this ballot question,” said Bonnie Friedman of the League of Women Voters. “That’s why we are trying to educate much more than the usual stuff for this election.”

Friedman points to a posting on a Belmont Parents Facebook group, that stated “A YES Vote” on Tuesday, September 25th, “Zones and limits how RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA is sold”, and a “No Vote”, “Does NOT limit how and where RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA is sold.” 

Besides the informational meeting, individual efforts have been ongoing to bring voters up to speed what’s on the ballot. 

“I handed out 86 info-sheets at the Farmers’ Market on Thursday. We were thinking that it would be awesome if we could stand at each polling place and do that, but the league doesn’t have enough members to do it,” said Friedman. 

Cushman is spearheading her two-pronged outreach effort which is her “attempt to help those voters along,” she said.

The first part was having a yellow-colored single page pamphlet included in Belmont Light’s September utility bills “to let voters know that the Board of Selectmen had called a Special Town Election for Sept. 25.”

The second part was Cushman authoring a “What your vote means” press release to help voters understand the two choices posed by the ballot language. (See the press release below)

It’s hoped that the final push to brief the public on the issues will keep voters from being confused and frustrated as they vote next week.

“I applaud all … efforts to educate and inform Belmont’s voters on the topic and the ballot choices and I look forward to their voter education event Sept. 20 at Chenery,” said Cushman. “We all hope for a strong voter participation and informed electorate.”

Here is Cushman’s press release on the two choices voters face on Sept. 25.

What does your vote on the ballot question mean? 

A Yes vote allows retail marijuana establishments to be licensed in Belmont and limits the number to 20 percent of the number of “package store” licenses we have issued; currently, that calculation would result in up to two licenses. This vote would also prohibit businesses that cultivate, manufacture or test marijuana from being licensed to open in Belmont.

A No vote allows retail marijuana establishments to be licensed in Belmont, but there would be no limit on the number of licenses that could be issued.  Also, businesses that cultivate, manufacture or test marijuana could be licensed; likewise, there would be no limit on the number of these licenses that could be issued.

Both Yes and No votes allow the Town of Belmont to create time, place and manner Zoning Bylaws regulating where, and how marijuana businesses may operate in Town, but only a Yes vote would let the Zoning Bylaw limit, directly or indirectly, the total number of retail stores allowed in Belmont. The proposed Zoning Bylaw regulating marijuana businesses is expected to be voted at the Special Town Meeting scheduled Nov. 13. The Belmont Board of Health has already adopted recreational-use marijuana regulations.

All marijuana licenses are issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; they not issued locally.

Belmont’s six polling places will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Marijuana High On Resident’s Questions At Town Meeting Preview

Photo: (Left) Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein and Town Counsel George Hall

April 20 – better known as 4/20 – is, in short, a holiday celebrating marijuana where people gather to consume cannabis and get high.

(Why 4/20 – pronounced four-twenty – ? Blame it on California.)

And in Belmont, 5/2 (May 2) will be marijuana day at the 2018 annual Town Meeting as next Wednesday weed will likely dominate the night’s debate as Town Meeting Members will be asked to decide whether to move forward on a citizens’ petition allowing Belmont to “opt-out” of allowing the retail sale of pot in the “Town of Homes.”  

And if the discussion at Monday’s annual Town Meeting warrant preview co-sponsored by the Belmont League of Women Voters and Warrant Committee is any indication, marijuana will take center stage when the Special Town Meeting is called on Wednesday.

In 2016, Bay State voters approved a ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis and its sale by retail operators. While Belmont followed the state by endorsing the question by a 53-47 percent margin, a group of residents – many affiliated with the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – has sought to remove Belmont from authorizing the sale of pot and cannabis-related “eatables.” Under the current state law, Belmont can approve a single state retail license under a formula that takes into account the number of retail liquor licenses in town.

The pro-opt out group contends a vote to legalize pot statewide does not mean the voters wish to have a marijuana store in the community. Others, including two current members of the Board of Selectmen, believe the majority of Belmont voters in November 2016 represent the “will of the people” on all aspects of the new law, according to Selectman Mark Paolillo.

From what the questioners asked to Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein who hosted the meeting and from Town Counsel George Hall, it appears members and residents wanted some clarity on what Wednesday’s vote by Town Meeting will begin or end in terms on Belmont’s pot future.

Hall explained that if the article to approve an opt-out provision passes on a majority vote – 50 percent of voters plus one extra vote – a general election will need to be called sometime in the summer by the Board of Selectmen (the only group allowed to request an election) to ask for town-wide approval.

“It needs to be approved twice. Both need to happen,” said Hall.

But Hall pointed out that approval of the opt-out clause at Town Meeting is a “recommendation” to the Selectmen to ask for a town-wide vote; it does not compel the Board to call for one. And Adam Dash, the selectmen’s chair, reiterated the board’s majority opinion that it would look unfavorably at such an election. 

Undeterred by the board’s reluctance to the article, Pam Eagar, who presented the opt-0ut citizens’ petition to the town clerk, showed her group’s potential strategy on bypassing the selectmen when he quired Hall on a possible public referendum on the measure. 

Under Belmont bylaws, a referendum – a direct vote in which all voters are invited to vote on a particular proposal to adopt a new bylaw – is allowed, although Hall said it would be a bit “strange” for proponents of the measure to overturn an article accepted by Town Meeting using the referendum process. 

But all the political wrangling on opting in or out will be mute if the article doesn’t pass muster on May 2. And if history is any measure, the supporters of the measure could find themselves fighting an uphill battle due to the time-honored practice of placing amendments to an article. 

Amendments are just that, addition or substitution to an article’s language used to clarify a measure or to correct misprints or errors. As of this week, there are six separate amendments to the marijuana proposal. 

But as seen in past Town Meetings, the greater the number of amendments attached to the articles, the more likely members will determine the original to be “unwinding” and “complicated,” as one member of Monday’s meeting said. 

Pot wasn’t the only subject discussed as residents raised questions on amendments regarding changing the number of Selectmen from three to five members and zoning issues related to the General Residence districts.

Belmont Board Of Health To Hold Marijuana Talk, Q&A March 14

Photo: Marijuana will be discussed on March 14.
The Belmont Board of Health and Health Department invites the public to attend a talk by as one of the world’s experts in marijuana on the risks and benefits of this controversial plant titled “The Unbiased Truth; a One Hour Presentation and Q&A” on Wednesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at Beth El Temple Center auditorium, 2 Concord Ave.
With the likelihood a store selling marijuana in or close to Belmont will be up and running by the summer of 2018, a great deal of what’s been discussed concerning marijuana is either incomplete or untrue. To learn the truth about the subject, the Board of Health invited Dr. Kevin Hill, director of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, to Belmont.
Hill treats patients with substance use disorders in a variety of settings. His research interests include the development of medications to treat cannabis use disorder as well as cannabis policy, and he has published widely on these topics in such journals as JAMA and Lancet Psychiatry. He provides a balanced factual approach to cannabis and his book “Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World’s Most Popular Weed” is a valuable resource for many. He consults on cannabis-related issues to policymakers and prominent sports organizations nationwide.
The meeting is free and open to the public through a grant from Mount Auburn Hospital. For more information, call 617-993-2720.

Selectmen Reject ‘Opt-Out’ Vote On Pot Sales; Chair Still Wants Residents To Decide

Photo: The Belmont Board of Selectmen: Paolillo (left), Williams and Dash.

Belmont is open for the recreational sale of marijuana when the Belmont Board of Selectmen rejected a proposal by Chair Jim Williams on Monday, Jan. 8 to hold a town-wide vote in February to ask residents their opinion on the controversial measure.

The 2-1 vote, with selectmen Mark Paolillo and Adam Dash voting no, did not sit well with Williams, who said it was the responsibility of the board to ask residents whether a majority wanted to town to “opt out” of the retail sale of weed in Belmont. While acknowledging that the town voted 52 percent to 48 percent in favor of the state-wide amendment in Nov. 2016 to end the prohibition of marijuana sales in the Bay State, Williams strenuously contended the result was not a green light on sales.

“Forget about Belmont’s representative democracy,” said Williams in an email to the Belmontonian after the board vote.

“[I]t’s actual democracy [that] took it on the chin last night … actually preventing the electorate from deciding whether to allow recreational marijuana retail sales in town or not. Opinion: Truly astonishing,” noted Williams.

In an attempt to revive the issue, Williams said he will schedule a reconsideration vote on the agenda when the selectmen next meet on Jan. 22. 

“I’m aware that this schedule will likely not enable us to effect an ‘opt-out’ before the existing April 1st deadline, but may allow us to put the question on the [Town Election] April 3rd ballot to avoid the obvious disenfranchisement inherent in Monday last’s 2-1 decision,” said Williams in a second email to the Belmontonian. 
“It also has the benefit of allowing an informed community discussion on the matter between now and then,” wrote Williams.
To place a marijuana sales question on the April 3 ballot, Williams would need to convince one of his colleagues to switch his position at the Jan. 22 meeting.

The need for the proposed “opt-out” special election in February is it would allow the town could “get ahead” of the April 1 date when the state’s licencing board begins accepting applications for retailers, according to the Town Counsel George Hall. With Belmont’s Town Election on April 3, retail applicants would have a small but critical three-day “window” to apply, effectively grandfathering their application if the town’s voters decided to ban the sale of weed in town. 

In the past few months, residents in Lexington and Winchester have voted “no” on sales and have submitted local bylaws to the state Attorney General for a review. 

Williams said not placing a question whether to “opt out” on the April 3 annual Town Election “is putting someone [ie retailer and the state] else in charge of the town,” as he advocated for a special election. 

“I am not in favor of doing nothing” since the board has “no idea, zero” on the electorate’s support or opposition to pot sales in the Town of Homes.

“We have to respect the will of the people and to do that we have to know what it is,” said Williams. 

But for the majority of the Selectmen, the vote and Special Town Meeting to ratify a new bylaw – at a cost of approximately $23,000, according to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman – would be counter to the will of the voters who originally passed the question 14 months ago.

For Paolillo, a special election “would be somewhat decisive” in a town where 70 percent of registered voters – about 14,000 – came to the polls and a majority casting a “yes” vote. He also said the public understood that voting yes “could mean sales in our town.” 

“We are representing the will of the people and they have spoken,” said Paolillo to Williams’ earlier statement.

In addition, local pot retailers will come under significant local controls including “the time, place and manner” of store operations and with the ability of the Health Department to mitigate the effects including by raising the age limit on the purchase marijuana and from the Planning Board in which business zone they can set up shop, said Paolillo and Dash.

Events outside of Belmont is also playing a role to limit applicants in Belmont as the federal government issued new guidelines this week which advised US Attorneys they can now enforce national laws that views marijuana as an illegal drug. Selectman Dash said the new harsher view by the feds will likely dampen retailers “jumping in here … with the uncertainty of the federal government.” 

In addition, the town would lose out on a three percent cut on sales that would go towards drug prevention and police, and education said Belmont Health Committee member Dr. David Alper. “Three percent is better than nothing,” said Alper.

Dash said while he was leaning towards a special election last month, “the more I thought about it and talked to people … that I’d rather do nothing than opt out but regulated appropriately.” 

“There’s going to be marijuana in Belmont whether we like it or not,” said Dash.

After Monday’s vote, Alper said the Health Department, along with the Planning Board, would begin creating comprehensive regulations on marijuana sales, singling out Brookline as a template as it has experience writing regulations with medical marijuana.

While the Health Board can unilaterally create regulations without the approval of Town Meeting, “we will hold public hearings so the public can be heard on this important matter.” 

In Or Out: Selectmen to Decide Jan. 8 If Pot Stores Are Coming To Town of Homes

Photo: Selectmen Mark Paolillo, Chair Jim Williams and Adam Dash with “brownies” before their discussion on pot regulations.

The representatives of the Belmont Board of Health and the town’s Health Department were bearing gifts as they came to speak before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on the future of marijuana retail sales in town.


Uh oh! Was the Board of Health tipping its hand on what position it would take on the future of pot stores in the “Town of Homes?” Or were the members being “set up” like a scene out of a Cheech and Chong film with Belmont Police Chief McLaughlin and the drug squad ready to pounce on the unsuspected consumers of “edibles.”

“Watch out. It could be ‘Mary’ ‘Wona’!” warned Selectmen Chair Jim Williams. 

But it turned out that Board of Health member Dr. David Alper was only sweetening the night with actual brownies (and latkas from resident Bonnie Friedman) as he came to advise the selectmen on Monday, Dec. 18 and the Planning Board the next night, Tuesday, Dec. 19 that “they need to get going” to decide whether the town would join the majority of communities allowing the establishment of  stores for the “adult” sale of marijuana which will begin statewide on June 1 . 

The selectmen declared Monday it would decide whether to opt in or out of the state law allowing the retail sale of pot and associated marijuana-infused food and candies at its scheduled Monday, Jan. 8 meeting at Town Hall. 

The state is moving quickly on creating licensing regulations with the Cannabis Control Commission this week presenting to the Secretary of State its outline for the issuance of licenses. The state will hold a public meeting on Feb. 5 before the law goes into effect on April 1 with the first applications going to the 18 medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating. All new weed retailers can open their doors on June 1. 

If the board decides to follow the lead of Winchester and a few towns in the Cape that have opted out, Belmont will need to call a town-wide election to support the board’s decision. The special election is required because the town’s voters passed what was called Question 4 in November 2016, 52.5 percent to 46.5 percent (7,585 to 6,868 votes), a slightly lower margin than the state overall, which was 53.6 percent yes vs. 46.3 percent no.

If the voters approve the board’s opt-out declaration, the selectmen would subsequently need to call a special town meeting before April 1 to enact a bylaw codifying the decision. 

While the selectmen could simply wait until the town’s scheduled election on April 4 and then the first night of the annual  Town Meeting on April 30 rather than call a special election and town meeting with its additional cost of approximately $15,000, Alper noted that marijuana entrepreneurs are expected to target “well-to-do communities” for their retail operations – which early estimates will generate $1 to $3 million in revenue annually – as they seek “upscale cannabis consumers.”

“I am less optimistic that we will be ignored,” said Alper. “Those four days allows someone to come in and ask the CCC for a license which will be granted because we didn’t have a bylaw or vote stopping it.”

By opting out, the town would also forego revenue from a three percent tax through a user agreement with retailers which is on top of the state’s three percent cut. Alper said the money – which modestly could be north of $30,000 annually – must be earmarked towards anti-drug education and prevention, which could include providing grant money to the district schools to conduct annual health surveys, establishing pilot programs to fight opioid addition and funding of additional shifts for police officers in drug prevention operations.

If the board decides to allow stores to open, the selectmen can also decide whether to establish a “cap” on the total number of establishments in Belmont. The minimum number of stores is determined by taking 20 percent of the number of full-liquor retail operations in town, which will allow Belmont to have only one store. While the town must allow one to open although it does control the “time, place and manner” of the store through the Planning Board. 

But Alper advised the Planning Board that it should not attempt to “hide” the store(s) in some out-of-the-way location such as behind the new electrical substation off of Brighton Street. 

“We want this to be a success,” he said, noting it will be easier to monitor and control. 

Selectman Adam Dash said a dispensary near his law practice in Somerville is “very professional looking. They don’t have Bob Marley posters in the window. We can regulate it so it looks like a professional place.” 

Alper said this will not be like any other commercial operation in another way: it is a cash-only business. While the state has approved the sale of pot, the federal government continues to see weed as illegal and President Trump’s US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to step up federal enforcement against pot.

The result is banks and other institutions will not accept checks, electronic payments or credit card transactions from these retail operations. Subsequently, the buying and selling of pot is via cash, which also includes how they pay store employees and suppliers. (Although one solution is to use Bitcoin or another non-traditional cryptocurrency.)

“They will pay their taxes and light bill in cash,” said Alper.

And the business ain’t low-end: high-grade pot sold in these establishments will cost between $250 to $400 an ounce, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in cash exchanging hands each day.

“And they’ll need an IRS agent in each store because it’s all cash,” said Alper.

Alper said while the town can limit the number of retail operations, due to the “liberal drafting of the regulations” by the CCC, the Board of Health will have the right to issue permits to a business for the therapeutic or “casual use” of marijuana, pointing to yoga instructors, massage and physical therapists who could seek a waiver. 

“We could also see one-day licenses like we have for alcohol use,” said Alper.

Alper said the Board of Health is ready to create these regulations – it does not require Town Meeting or selectmen authorization, just an open public meeting before issuing the new rules – “so we are waiting what direction you want to take.” 

“It all leads back to you people,” said Alper.