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Council Committee Gives Medical Marijuana Proposal Favorable Recommendation

By Joshua J. Florence and Samuel Vasquez, Crimson Staff Writers

Sage Cannabis is one step closer to opening a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in Cambridge following a televised hearing in which city councillors questioned the safety of the proposed site and ultimately voted to move the proposal forward.

Following the two-hour hearing, the City Council’s Zoning and Ordinance Committee voted 5-0 to forward Sage Cannabis’ zoning proposal to the council at-large with a favorable recommendation.

Michael H.L. Dundas, CEO of Sage Cannabis, and his attorney Sean D. Hope appeared before the committee on Thursday in an attempt to change Cambridge’s zoning laws. The proposed change would create a new zone in between Harvard Square and Central Square where medical marijuana could be legally sold. There are currently two zones that cover the northeastern and northwestern sections of the city.

The committee favored Cannabis’ proposal because the company presented extensive research, according to Councillor Leland Cheung.

“We have a proponent with the petition who has clearly gone out and reached out to the neighborhood, clearly thought through all the issues that Cambridge residents have in terms of safety, in terms of effects,” Cheung, the chair of the zoning committee, said.

While the committee ultimately found favor with Sage Cannabis’ proposal, Councillor David P. Maher said he was “skeptical” of the zoning proposal and worried that a new zone would give an exception to only one company, which could set precedent for future dispensaries. If approved, the new zone, which spans one block on Massachusetts Avenue, could make it difficult for other dispensaries to open in the Square.

“For me this comes down to an issue of fairness,” Maher said. “We’re doing a special favor for one company, and I don’t think that’s the way it should happen.”

In response, Councillor Jan Devereux argued that while approval could appear to be favoritism, the needs of patients who seek medical marijuana represent more important concerns.

“One could characterize it as doing a favor to one applicant but it’s also doing a service to the patients who have waited a long time to see medical marijuana become available in Cambridge,” Devereux said.

Councillors were also concerned about the security of the site, and the possibility for illicit dealings. When questioned by Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern whether it would be in Dundas’ interest to supply drug dealers with marijuana, Dundas replied with an emphatic no.

“After what we’ve gone through to acquire these licenses and to ensure proper business and security and financial operations... we would be crazy to let that type of activity happen,” Dundas said.

Over a dozen individuals from the greater Boston area provided mixed opinions on the proposal during a public comment portion of the meeting. Among the proponents were veterans, senior citizens, and those struggling with chronic illnesses who claimed the dispensary would provide relief for their ailments. Others worried the dispensary could potentially lead to increased crime and drug usage.

McGovern criticized opposition to the dispensary.

“Whether it’s medical marijuana, or transitional housing for the homeless or affordable housing, I’m really getting frustrated with patting ourselves on the back for all the progressive values that we have in this city and then, when it comes down for individual neighborhoods to put skin in the game, say ‘I believe in this, but don’t put it near me,’” McGovern said.

Dundas and Hope touched upon security and costs in a presentation at the beginning of the hearing. According to Dundas, minors under the age of 18 would be unable to enter the below-ground dispensary. The cost for one “unit” from the dispensary would be roughly $10, while other products may cost up to $40.

The proposal will now move to the entire council for consideration, where councillors will vote whether to approve the proposal.

—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

—Staff writer Samuel Vasquez can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @svasquez14.

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