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Peabody is now second city in the North Shore to allow medical marijuana

Peabody became the second city on the North Shore Thursday night to allow medical marijuana. But recreational pot smokers will have to go elsewhere to buy it.

Wellness Connection of Massachusetts and Phytotherapy got the green light from the City Council to open clinics near each other on Route 1.

They will face competition not only from each other, but from Alternative Therapies Group, which has been selling medical pot in Salem for three years.

In addition to issuing special permits to launch the two clinics, the panel approved a host agreement that could bring the city as much as $340,000 in tax revenue during their first year of operation.

The financial arrangement provides an initial payment by each medical marijuana dispensary of $100,000 to fund the costs of medical, social, and educational services in the city. In addition, the facilities will be taxed 3 percent of annual gross revenues.

City Councilor-at-Large Ryan Melville, who crafted the agreement with Michael Smerczynski, the city’s attorney, said the clinics have told him they expect to have revenues of $4 million each annually, which would put $240,000 into the city’s coffers.

But there are caveats, he said.

“We can’t spend that 3 percent on anything we’d like,” said Melville. “State law requires that it be for impacts the facility has on the community. We can’t just use the money to buy a school bus.”

For example, he said, the health center at the high school, will get some of the money, as well as the Fire Department.

Officials representing Wellness said they plan to build a 4,977-square-foot building on a vacant, 2-acre site on Route 1  near Bertucci’s. Previously, the parcel had been eyed as a place to build a hotel.

The company’s traffic engineer said the shop will have little impact on the congestion along Route 1. The facility would be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A second special permit was issued to Phytotherapy who plan to turn the Brothers Kouzina restaurant into a medical marijuana clinic.

But the dozen residents who testified at the City Hall hearing hoping to defeat a proposal to ban recreational marijuana in the city by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt were disappointed. While the speakers appealed to the 11-member panel to embrace recreational pot which is now legal in Massachusetts, and the revenues they bring, the panel rejected their suggestion.

“I feel very strongly that banning recreational marijuana is in the best interests of our community,” said Bettencourt. “Let me be clear, I support medical marijuana … but many in the law enforcement community believe legalizing marijuana during the current opioid epidemic is a mistake.”

The mayor also said selling pot will result in a surge of marijuana impaired drivers which, he said, is nearly impossible to test for and difficult to prosecute.   

“Already struggling with distracted and otherwise impaired drivers, police officers believe their jobs are about to get a lot more difficult and the roads more dangerous,” he said.  

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