Group drops Elm Street marijuana dispensary site

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BENNINGTON — A group seeking to open the first medical marijuana dispensary in the Bennington area has abandoned plans for use of an Elm Street site and will explore other locations in town.

William Cats-Baril, CEO of PhytoScience Institute, LLC, said Wednesday that, after speaking with town zoning officials about a vacant building at 345 Elm St., the group will seek an alternative site.

"They politely gave us a heads up that [permitting] would be difficult because of neighborhood opposition," said Cats-Baril. He had previously stated that PhytoScience wants to work with the community and would not try to force the facility into a site that residents opposed.

Opposition to the proposal was voiced by some residents online and in letters to the editor following an article about the Elm Street building, which formerly housed medical practice tenants.

"We are all about working with the community," Cats-Baril said. "We are looking at other locations and hope to find one that is acceptable."

He said he intends to visit three possible sites this week.

The group has received conditional approval for what will be the state's fifth medical marijuana license and hopes to open a facility in Bennington within a few months. Depending on the amount of renovation work required and the time frame for hiring and training two employees from the Bennington area, Cats-Baril said he plans to open a dispensary by the end of December.

The Elm Street site was an ideal location, he said, adding that PhytoScience is seeking "a medical practice-looking space."

Asked previously about zoning requirements for the Elm Street site, town planning director Dan Monks said commercial uses generally are not allowed on upper Elm Street. The parcel is in a village residential zone that does not normally allow retail uses.

Monks said 345 Elm St. could continue to be used as a medical office, as that is a pre-existing, non-conforming use, but a dispensary involves the sale of a product without medical examinations on site.

In that case, he said, the Development Review Board would have to decide if a dispensary could be considered a medical clinic as defined in the town's Land Use Regulations.

Other zoning districts do allow retail uses but the Development Review Board could also weigh in on the permitting decision.

The group also has conditional approval to open a dispensary in St. Albans, but no site there has been selected. Bennington, considered one of the state's largest underserved areas for medical marijuana, is the first priority, Cats-Baril said.

In addition to operating two dispensary operations, PhytoScience Institute is looking for a site between Bennington and St. Albans to establish a marijuana cultivation facility.

In the short-term, Cats-Baril said he has agreements with two existing license holders to purchase medical marijuana for patients here and in the St. Albans area.

Licensed facilities currently operate in Montpelier, Brattleboro, Brandon and Burlington, serving more than 4,600 licensed patients.

The 2017 legislation that allowed a fifth cultivation/dispensary license also permits each of the original license-holders to establish a satellite facility in another area. Applications have been submitted for satellite dispensaries in Middlebury, South Burlington, Williston and Hartford.

Cats-Baril said his group plans a patient-focused business, adding that typically only a few registered patients at a time would be served, always after making an appointment. The facility will not be a retail store, he said.

PhytoScience Institute received conditional license approval and now must secure ownership or use of the proposed site and seek local permits. Once the facility is ready to begin operations, a final state inspection is required before the license is issued.

Currently, Cats-Baril oversees a laboratory in Waterbury that researches and develops high-quality medical marijuana and performs quality testing, using proprietary methods for the Vermont Patients Alliance and other entities.

When the number of Vermont medical marijuana patients reaches 7,000, the state will begin seeking applications for a sixth full license, as allowed under the state legislation.

Information about PhytoScience Institute is available at www.phytoscienceinstitute.com

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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