SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 11, 2014

How Alternative Therapies Group courted officials

Salem: Letters could be key to medical marijuana outfit's success

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — Application materials recently released by the state show how Alternative Therapies Group approached officials about locating a medical marijuana dispensary in the city — and how its success in doing so might have set it apart from the competition.

Alternative Therapies was recently licensed by the state to sell medical marijuana out of 50 Grove St. and hopes to be open by Aug. 1. The nonprofit was licensed after a rigorous, two-phase application process overseen by the Department of Public Health.

The nonprofit began courting city officials last May, when its representatives met with Dominick Pangallo, the mayor’s chief aide; Lynn Duncan, the city’s planning director; and Beth Renard, its solicitor.

“Our intention in this meeting, along with subsequent ones, was to seek to understand the city leaders’ community impact concerns and provide information about well-regulated medical marijuana programs in other states and jurisdictions,” Alternative Therapies wrote in its application.

Next, on July 10, the nonprofit met with Salem state Rep. John Keenan, who indicated “he is comfortable with our group and our approach,” and was not opposed to the dispensary being in Salem. The same day, the group presented its plans to Mayor Kim Driscoll for the first time, and to police Chief Paul Tucker, Board of Health Agent Larry Ramdin and others.

In the following months, Alternative Therapies approached state Sen. Joan Lovely, city councilors and other officials about locating its dispensary at a Technology Way address and hosted an informational meeting for neighbors to the property on Sept. 12. It’s unclear at what point the Technology Way plan was abandoned or why.

In October, the group appeared before a City Council subcommittee as it considered a temporary moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium failed by unanimous vote. Later in the month, the group met with Councilor Paul Prevey to “review messages he had received from constituents and successfully allayed his concerns.”

When it came time for the final phase of the state’s application process, Alternative Therapies Group and Good Chemistry of Massachusetts — the other group that vied to open a dispensary in Salem, but failed — submitted letters of non-opposition. Those letters — and the relationship with city officials they reflected — were used by the state to gauge local support.

Although it isn’t exactly clear how Alternative Therapies ended up outscoring Good Chemistry on its overall application, differences in those letters seem to favor Alternative Therapies. Alternative Therapies scored 149 out of 163; Good Chemistry scored 145.

For starters, Alternative Therapies managed to obtain a letter of non-opposition from the City Council; Good Chemistry did not.

Also, while both of the nonprofits obtained similar letters from Ramdin on behalf of the Board of Health, and from Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office, the letter from Driscoll for Alternative Therapies was more enthusiastic and twice as long.

“The only reason I am not writing with explicit support for ATG’s application is because the city of Salem has an established process for evaluating medical clinics and dispensaries, spelled out in our ordinances: Applications must receive a special permit from our Zoning Board of Appeals,” wrote Driscoll. “Until our ZBA issues such a permit, following a public hearing, I am only comfortable expressing non-opposition for ATG’s application.”

To be sure, Driscoll also praised Good Chemistry in its letter, saying it had been “transparent and approachable.” But she reserved special praise for Alternative Therapies.

“ATG has been impressive, both in terms of their professionalism and their concern for being a good neighbor and a contributing member of Salem’s diverse business community,” Driscoll wrote. “They have been proactive, transparent and approachable.”

Driscoll’s letter also touched on a key difference between the two groups: Alternative Therapies offered to donate $50,000 a year to the city.

“As a gesture of their positive intentions, they have offered, unprompted, a Community Host Agreement in which they will donate $50,000 per year to the city of Salem for traffic mitigation and health and wellness programs, such as our Salem Mass in Motion program,” Driscoll wrote.

Good Chemistry did not make a similar offer.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to consider issuing Alternative Therapies Group a special permit at its meeting on Feb. 19.

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at ndempsey@salemnews.com.