Council prohibits medical marijuana cultivation centers

Bristol Town Council also approves new medical clinic, holds doggy daycare license after violations

EastBayRI.com ·

As demand for medical marijuana continues to skyrocket, the state Department of Business Regulation is encouraging towns throughout Rhode Island to allow cultivation centers that can produce more medicine to satisfy demand.

Such large-scale growing facilities won’t be going on in Bristol any time soon after the Town Council voted last Wednesday to ban the cultivation centers in town.

The council voted 4-1 to ban the cultivation centers, with Councilman Tim Sweeney the lone vote opposing the move. For most council members, their votes against the cultivation centers is not reflective of a moral opposition to canibus, but is rather based in a practical business concern, they indicated.

“What this ordinance would facilitate and allow is cultivation centers to occupy manufacturing spaces,” Councilman Andy Tyska said. “There’s no doubt that the cultivation centers can pay a premium for these spaces. As a result, small businesses, new businesses, which employ our neighbors, our family members, will be squeezed out because of rising rents. For our town, it’s important we preserve our manufacturing and light industrial spaces.”

Indeed, the state is encouraging medical marijuana growers to take advantage of late, available factories and industrial spaces to increase supply in a state with more than 40,000 medical marijuana card applications, according to Norman Birembaum, from the DBR.

“Existing grow facilities cannot provide enough to meet the demand for medical marijuana,” Mr. Birenbaum told the council. “The overwhelming majority of supply is coming from home grows, not licensed facilities. In trying to make sure that people have a variety of products to treat their medical condition, we are really encouraging people to license these facilities.”

The large operations will make it easier for the DBR to oversee the medical marijuana industry, Mr. Birenbaum said, noting the state does not have the same controls and oversight over home grow operations. With cultivation centers, DBR representatives have 24-hour control over real-time surveillance systems, and they conduct regular inspections. The state ensures the centers comply with all local zoning laws, mitigate all odors form the operation, install discreet signage, and hire adequate security to protect the facility.

“We have a tremendous level of oversight over these facilities so it’s done safely and responsibly,” Mr. Birenbaum said. “RI has one of the highest capacity of usage in the country – a lot is distributed on the black market. Demand is there. People are using it to treat medical conditions. We want people to be able to treat their conditions without having to rely on the black market or grow it themselves.”

Town Administrator Steven Contente encouraged the council to deny the prohibition on cultivation centers. Harkening back to his days as a Bristol Police Officers, Mr. Contente relayed to the council stories of home invasions and other crimes spurred by the prevalence of home grows around town. A cultivation center is a better option, he said, and urged the council to hold the vote for further study.

“I don’t think we want to prohibit regulated grows. There is some merit to it,” Mr. Contente said. “There are grows all over town. This is a way to try and eliminate that.”

Most council members, however, hesitated to allow a full-scale grow operation in Bristol until there’s some evidence of how they work in other towns.

“There are a lot of things I think Bristol should be first in. In this case, I’d like to see how it works elsewhere,” Council Chairman Nathan Calouro said. “I don’t want to be the first in on this one.”

Pet overcrowding

In other business Wednesday, the council considered a license extension for a doggie daycare that has reportedly not met the requirements of the existing permit, despite the owner’s efforts.

Donna Olivo, owner of All Paws Inn — a dog day care — experienced an outbreak of parvo in her kennel, and reportedly had dozens more dogs on site than she is permitted for. Ms. Olivo confirmed the issues, but said the dogs belonged to her friend and she was simply taking them in for the night. When she realized that the dogs did not look well, she took them to the vet, finding they had parvo.

“I knew they didn’t look good, but I kept them in contained areas,” Ms. Olivo said. “I thought I was being good and helping the community.”

Animal Control Officer Dyanne Gibree said Ms. Olivo had 51 dogs on her property while her license — which expired on May 1 — only allows for 10 at a time. Ms. Olivo acknowledged having 51 dogs registered under her name, but said they were not all on her property at that time.

Ms. Olivo was also confronted about odors on the property and told her floors and other aspects of the property needed to be renovated. “At this time, Olivo was also made aware of the changes that were not addressed to her when she last renewed her license,” Ms. Gibree said.

“I did what they asked,” Ms. Olivo said. “I had dogs elevated, which was against the law, so I don’t do that anymore.”

egardless, Ms. Gibree indicated she is not pleased with the kennel. “I’m torn. Do you give someone a license who is not in compliance with the regulations or do you stop them from making a living?” Ms. Gibree said.

Dog owner Sandra Landay stepped forward to speak in favor of Ms. Olivo. She told the council about how much her dogs love going to All Paws Inn every day. The dogs have shown her that they get to play and they are excited to go back every day.

“Owners and dogs speak quite frequently, you know,” Ms. Landay said.

Without the state’s approval, there was nothing the council could do with the local license, so the council continued the issue to the May 19 meeting.

New medical clinic

Lifetime Bristonian Dr. Paul Agatiello, a physician for 35 years, plans to open a free medical advice clinic for Bristol residents over 18 years old. The clinic would allow town residents to speak to him about questions they have about a diagnosis, pills, Obamacare, etc.

Dr. Agatiello reminded the council that this would not be a typical doctor visit. He would not be ordering lab tests or anything similar and it would not be a replacement for their primary physician.

“I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything,” Dr. Agatiello said. “I’m not asking for much from the town, just your blessing.”

Dr. Agatiello is working with an attorney to minimize his and the town’s liability. There are no major legal issues and it is a complete volunteer effort, he said.

Town administrator Steven Contente said the town is lucky to have Dr. Agatiello and commended him for his effort.

“We all have the same goal,” Dr. Agatiello said. “Help Bristonians as much as we can.”

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