FALL RIVER — Jay says he buys high-quality pot in Fall River not to get a buzz but to help him fall asleep.
“I have horrible insomnia, and it helps me a lot,” said the 38-year-old Warwick resident, who didn’t want to reveal his last name.
Jay says he’s not eligible for a medical cannabis card in Rhode Island — which is why he spends up to $200 every two months at the Northeast Alternatives dispensary on William S. Canning Boulevard off of Route 24 near the Tiverton line.
“I have no choice but to come here,” Jay said on a recent weekday afternoon, as he held a small customer bag containing both smokable weed and cannabis wax, which is a concentrated form of cannabis oil.
Northeast Alternatives is one of three adult retail marijuana dispensaries operating in Fall River. It was also the first, opening for medical marijuana sales in 2018 and recreational sales in 2019.
Another three groups of investors, including one former Fall River mayor, have plans to open dispensaries before the end of 2021. All three projects also include plans to incorporate the cultivation, or growing, of marijuana plants.
Jay said that online prices for businesses selling recreational marijuana are more or less comparable. But he says he might be willing to do some comparison shopping in terms of various cannabis strains.
“I’d look into it,” he said.
Local application process to have more oversight
There will be changes in how retail marijuana applications are assessed on a local level from now on, according to Fall River Corporation Counsel Alan Rumsey.
Former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia is currently standing trial in Boston on federal charges of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from prospective retail-pot business owners, in exchange for mayoral letters of approval to operate in the city.
Rumsey said applicants will still need so-called non-opposition letters from Mayor Paul Coogan, in addition to host community agreements.
“It’s a requisite,” he said of the executive-level letter.
But Rumsey says ”a comprehensive review” is underway that’s expected to establish “a formal application process,” which he said will include the creation of a Cannabis Licensing and Enforcement Commission and “significant revisions” to host community agreements.
“Additional marijuana establishments are unlikely to be authorized in the city until this review process has been completed,” he said.
Rumsey said it’s too early to say who might be appointed to the new commission, which he says will “essentially be a licensing enforcement commission.”
“We need a formal process, but we’re just not there yet,” he said.
Rumsey said the former policy of requiring a $50,000 deposit as part of the host community agreement has been discontinued. He said his office recently returned a check in that amount to one applicant and will not cash a similar check from another.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives in February passed a bill that would empower the Cannabis Control Commission to oversee municipal host community agreements,
Former corporation counsel Joseph Macy, during his testimony in the Correia federal trial, said he drafted 14 letters on behalf of Correia and 14 host community agreements.
Rumsey said he’s not certain how many marijuana establishment applications are pending. He estimated, however, that there are at least between five and 10.
Former Mayor Will Flanagan has plans
Will Flanagan was mayor of Fall River when voters in the state approved the legalization of medical marijuana.
Flanagan, a criminal defense lawyer who earlier in his career served as an assistant district attorney, said he and his two partners expect their marijuana dispensary to open by late summer or early fall.
He says their business will be called Cosmopolitan Dispensary and will occupy the entire first floor of the former Salter College building at 82 Hartwell St.
Salter College, which was a private vocational school, closed all of its Massachusetts schools after being fined a total of $5.5 million by the Attorney General between 2014 and 2019 for deceptive enrollment practices.
Flanagan said the only remaining tenant in the three-story building is Canna Care Docs — which occupies part of the second floor, and for years has provided medical marijuana information and recommendations to people who might be eligible for medical marijuana treatment.
Flanagan said he and his partners have a lease-to-buy agreement with the property owner.
He said they’re investing $400,000 for what he calls “a complete build-out” of their space and another $750,000 on equipment, supplies and inventory.
Flanagan said one partner has experience operating dispensaries in Colorado. The other, he said, is involved in a dispensary that just opened in Brockton called Brockton Green Heart Marijuana Dispensary.
Flanagan says they’re also intent on incorporating marijuana cultivation so that their business model becomes “vertically integrated.”
He says ideally they eventually will be able to occupy all three floors of the Hartwell Street building.
Between 15 and 20 employees will be hired to start, Flanagan said, and as many as 50 could work there if cultivation is added to the upper floors.
Flanagan said he and his partners have a valid host community agreement and letter of non-opposition from former mayor Correia, as well as a provisional license from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission.
He said they’ve hired William Starck Architects of Fall River to redesign the interior.
The final state approval, Flanagan said, will come from the cannabis commission’s Architectural Plan Review Committee.
“It’s a very, very in-depth inspection,” he said.
Flanagan says he doesn’t smoke or ingest marijuana, but he says he became convinced that it helps people with certain medical problems when he visited a friend in Colorado who works in the industry.
“I’m a former prosecutor and prosecuted cannabis cases. But I saw firsthand how it helps sick people, especially kids with seizure disorders,” he said. “It opened my eyes and really changed my outlook and opinion.”
The two other marijuana businesses currently operating in the city include Sunnyside Cannabis, initially known as Hope Heal Health, and Nature’s Medicines, formerly known as Xiphias Wellness.
Sunnyside, which grows and sells, occupies a former mill building at 1 West Street in the city’s North End; Nature’s Medicines, which only dispenses marijuana, is inside the former Ukrainian Club at 482 Globe St.
Flanagan and his group could be facing a somewhat crowded field.
A dispensary called Health For Life was set to open in 2020 in a brand new building at 160 Hartwell St. behind the Applebee’s restaurant and Walgreens, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company also constructed a now-active 50,000-square-foot cultivation building at 1100 Innovation Way in the city’s BioPark adjacent the Amazon distribution and warehouse facility next to Route 24.
It’s not clear if the Health For Life dispensary will open in 2021. Attempts to contact the owner have so far been unsuccessful.
Flanagan, however, said he’s not concerned about another dispensary being situated in close proximity to his.
“I think it’s actually an advantage having them be so close,” he said.
“Marijuana dispensaries are like a magnet,” Flanagan said. “It’s no different than a CVS being near a Walgreens or a McDonald’s being near a Burger King. It gives consumers a choice.”
He also said marijuana entrepreneurs tend to be supportive of one another and are even allowed under state law to “transfer,” or sell, products to each other when either business is running low on a certain strain or variety.
The last marijuana project in the city that’s currently moving toward final state approval is Aura Cannabis LLC, which last year purchased the former BK’s Beacon Tavern building at 320 Airport Road.
Westport attorney Brian Corey, who also has legal cannabis clients in other municipalities including Westport, represents Aura Cannabis LLC.
Corey said he expects the Aura group to have a state provisional license to cultivate and dispense marijuana inside the Airport Road building within “the next couple of months.”
Chris Mirmirani of North Providence had just finished buying his monthly supply of recreational marijuana at the Northeast Alternatives dispensary.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Mirmirani, 38, said, when told that as many as six dispensaries could be open in Fall River before the end of the year.
“Imagine how much money they make here. It’s a booming business,” he said.