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What’s up with Saugus’ pot business?

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Board of Selectmen Chair Cogliano said the town manager is taking too long to make recommendations, but a majority of the board members disagree

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano said he’s ready to proceed with public hearings for the seven applicants seeking the three Special Permits (S-2) to open marijuana dispensaries on Route 1 in Saugus. “It was my assumption that we would have had those people in here by now to start issuing licenses,” Cogliano told his colleagues near the end of Tuesday (May 9) night’s meeting.

  “I am asking that all of the manager’s recommendations be submitted to this board no later than next Friday (May 19) so that the board can bring those people in for hearings,” he said.

  “I just think it’s high time that the board conduct our business now as we are the S-2 permit-granting authority. Unless one of those applicants doesn’t meet the criteria for rezoning, I would expect to see all the applicants before us so we can start scheduling those hearings and get the ball rolling,” he said.

  But a majority of the selectmen on the five member board – Vice Chair Debra Panetta, Jeffrey Cicolini and Michael Serino – said in interviews with The Saugus Advocate that they objected to setting a deadline for the town manager to make his recommendations to the board – Crabtree should take as much time as he needs and that the Marijuana Establishment Review Committee should be allowed to complete its work.

  “I for one will offer as much time as needed by the committee to thoroughly vet the applicants so we can make fully informed decisions when deciding on who to issue the licenses to,” Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini said in an interview.

  However, Cogliano said he thinks the process has already taken too much time since the Annual Town Meeting approved the rezoning article on cannabis dispensaries last May 6 – a year ago tomorrow (Saturday, May 6). “Here we are at the beginning of May and we’re still at Square One. So, we want to get moving with that,” Cogliano told his colleagues.

  Selectman Corinne Riley was the lone member siding with Cogliano. She said the town loses revenue with each passing day that no S-2 permits are issued.

  Crabtree, who did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting, has said little on the situation publicly since he issued a Request For Information (RFI) document in January.

  “I think the purpose of the RFI was to make sure everyone met the criteria for the correct place and their financials were in order,” Cogliano said.

  “And It’s been quite some time. Town Meeting approved that [rezoning article for cannabis dispensaries] last May 6 and the Attorney General Nov. 4,” he said.

  Here’s what each selectman had to say about the need to proceed expeditiously on the issuance of S-2 permits to applicants seeking approval to open up marijuana dispensaries in town:

Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini

  The cannabis establishments coming to town is a very significant event for Saugus and one that cannot be taken lightly. We have a committee that is charged with vetting each applicant and performing site visits for each of their proposed locations to make sure they comply with the thousands of pages of regulations and governance requirements. The committee is comprised of several of our top ranking officials including but not limited to our Town Manager, the Police Chief and Fire Chief, the Health Director and our head of procurement. From what I understand, to date this process has been extremely involved and time consuming. In addition to department heads being in the middle of our budget season there are many other town responsibilities each member is dealing with in addition to one key member being out for a medical procedure. I understand the desire to make decisions quickly and move forward however this process cannot and should not be rushed. Many of my partners at my firm have first-hand knowledge of this entire process and I am told there are communities that have taken almost a year from the opening of the Proposals to issuance of the license(s). It is critical that we get this process right as it is a matter of public safety and long-term sustainability. I for one will offer as much time as needed by the committee to thoroughly vet the applicants so we can make fully informed decisions when deciding on who to issue the licenses.

Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano

  I have held community outreach meetings for the following sites: Oye Restaurant, Out of Asia, The 99, Avalon Motel, All Tune and Lube, the property just north of the Army Surplus store and Auto Excellence.

  The rezoning was voted by Town Meeting to allow these dispensaries on May 6th 2022, it was approved by the Attorney General on November 4th 2022. The town manager has told me he will be ready in two weeks so I think Friday May 19th should be more than sufficient to deliver his recommendations to the Board. S2 permits are granted by the Board of Selectmen and unless one of the applicants fails to meet the necessary requirements, I intend to bring them all in for hearings to determine the best fit for our town. I respect the work of the committee the Manager assembled and value their opinions. But this is a Board of Selectmen issue and I intend to handle them like any other licensing issue. I will do my homework and set up site visits at existing locations to see how well the dispensaries are being run.

  The Attorney General took six months, the Manager took six months. I’d like to see one open in 2023 so the Board and I will do our due diligence which should take less than a month.

Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta

  The proposed marijuana facilities are being vetted by the Marijuana Establishment Review Committee made up of Public Safety Department heads, the Building Commissioner, Health Director, Procurement Director, Town Manager, and other important representatives. This Committee is reviewing thousands of pages of submitted material and conducting in-person presentations. There are 7 applications before this Committee, where these applicants are looking for locations up-and-down Route 1. This is a new process for Saugus, and like any new process, it takes time to do it right. This is a time-consuming undertaking, and we are in the midst of budget season for department heads, who are busy with multiple responsibilities. The Committee needs to take the required time to complete the process thoroughly.

  Each proposed facility needs to be properly vetted for the health and safety of Saugus residents. As with all applications that come before the Board of Selectmen, we should rely heavily on the recommendations from our Public Safety experts (Police Chief, Fire Chief), Building Inspector, Health Director, Town Manager, and others serving on this Committee. We need to avoid legal issues, like the scandal involving the former Mayor of Fall River, concerning the local approval/selection process for marijuana companies.

  I would not feel comfortable moving forward with these applications until the Committee completes its due diligence, spending the proper time to complete their important work. Then the Board of Selectmen need to review the applications, hold public hearings, and have site visits. Our Town residents deserve no less.

Selectman Corinne Riley

  The issue of granting marijuana licenses is certainly under the purview of the Board of Selectmen, as are granting Liquor Licenses. The more time that passes, the more revenue the town misses out on that will go to the cities just outside the town’s borders. Seeing as they can only be on Route one with specific guidelines of location, if the businesses meet the criteria that were vetted by the committee the town manager assembled, then we should have them so we can review and make the decision on who we feel is best fitted to run their establishment here in town.


Selectman Michael Serino

  After speaking with the Town Manager, I do not believe that the Cannabis (marijuana) licensing process has been lagging. The Town Manager has put in a considerable amount of time in putting together an application process. A Cannabis committee has been formed to include one individual from our Police and Fire departments, Planning Board, Board of Health, Procurement Director and our Building Commissioner. The Cannabis committee will have to visit each site before making their recommendation to the Board of Selectmen. The Town Manager has had to consult with an attorney who has expertise in licensing Cannabis establishments. Unfortunately, the Town Manager has been in the middle of putting together the 2024 Town budget over the past several months. Many meetings have been held with all department heads, Finance Committee members, Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting members and preparing for our Town Meetings.

  Overall, seven (7) applicants have filed the necessary paperwork requesting a Cannabis license. Once the Cannabis committee makes their recommendations to the Board of Selectmen, I would like to have the opportunity and time needed to review all the applications. Moreover, as one member of the board, I would like to schedule a site visit with my fellow board members and then schedule a host community outreach forum as required under Mass General Laws. We need to be fair to all applicants. Imposing a deadline is not in the best interest of public safety for our community. This is a new learning experience for all of us and we need to get this licensing process right.

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