Easthampton weighs proposed pot business regulations

  • Pioneer Valley grower Phill Lamson displays a sativa strain of marijuana Oct. 5, 2017.

Friday, January 12, 2018

EASTHAMPTON — Those looking to jump into the cannabis industry are keeping a close watch on the city as local regulations on recreational marijuana are developed.

Among the recent newcomers are Kot Kasom and Leakhena Som, who hope to open a combination cultivation and retail business called Green Life Dispensary out of a warehouse at 19 Wemelco Way off Route 10 by the Southampton border.

Kasom, a 15-year Easthampton resident who runs Soul Fitness, said he’s new to the marijuana industry, but likes the medical uses for treating the symptoms of cancer and epilepsy.

Along with cultivating organic cannabis, Kasom said they plan to offer cannabis-infused drinks and edibles. Kasom said the space allows them to hold events and operate food trucks on the site.

“We want to make it a destination,” Kasom said, adding that they hope to open by August.

But under the proposed regulations currently being reviewed by the City Council’s ordinance subcommittee, the industrial district, which is where the site is located, is not zoned for retail marijuana, though it is for cultivation and manufacturing. Kasom and Som are pushing for the restriction to be changed.

At Wednesday’s ordinance subcommittee meeting, Attorney Joy Rizos, who is representing Green Life Dispensary, said she requested the zoning be changed to allow retail marijuana in the industrial district. She said the dispensary’s site is tucked away and it won’t be seen by people driving on Route 10.

In addition to Green Life, other businesses are prepping to open in Easthampton.

Karima Rizk plans to open a cannabis coffeehouse, Cafe Vert, in the Keystone Mill Building next to Abandoned Building Brewery.

Also at Keystone, the Hampden Care Facility is getting ready to open its medical marijuana dispensary and apply for a recreational license in April. The facility held a job fair in November and attorney Stephen Reilly, who is representing Hampden Care, said hundreds of people showed up.

Easthampton voters showed support for legalization of cannabis in 2016, when 6,009 people, or about 62 percent of voters, were in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis.

In December, the Planning Board passed an ordinance for review by the City Council’s ordinance subcommittee. After the subcommittee reviews the proposal, and makes any changes, the Planning Board and ordinance subcommittee will hold a joint public hearing on Feb. 20. It will then go to the full City Council.

The proposed regulations state that no more than 12 retail marijuana retailers are allowed in the city, social consumption is allowed at marijuana retailers and marijuana establishments must be at least 200 feet from any school or child care center.

Marijuana, plants, products and paraphernalia are not allowed to be visible from outside the building, the proposal states.

At the state level, the Cannabis Control Commission is required to have regulations in place by March 15.

The ordinance subcommittee’s chairman Salem Derby started the Wednesday meeting with the history of cannabis, stating that in the past it was used in medicine. He said the “birth of cannabis prohibition” was during the Mexican Revolution in 1910, where immigrants brought in marijuana with them to Texas. He also cited a quote from Richard Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman, where he said the war on drugs targeted “blacks and hippies.”

“Often times people are a product of what they’ve been taught, what they’ve been told, and I think it’s responsible for us in this new era to take a hard look at the history behind this,” Derby said. “To take a hard look at why people are so scared and think it’s going to create an anti-family environment.”

City Councilor Daniel Rist spoke during public comment, stating his concerns for public safety and social consumption, especially those who may leave the site and drive under the influence of cannabis.

“I just want to plant a thought: If cannabis is legal to buy and there’s no place to smoke it, where do you think people are going to smoke it?” Derby said. “In their car.”

Resident Marty Klein said while over 60 percent supported recreational cannabis, there is still around 38 percent that did not. Klein, who has given talks on growing cannabis, said he plans to hold educational talks on cannabis.

“Education is really important,” he said. “This is a huge social change. This is one of the biggest in my lifetime, if not the biggest.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.