SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — South County may get its first medical marijuana dispensary after a state lottery-style selection of Plant Based Compassionate Care Inc., but questions have arisen about where it will be located, according to local officials.
The company, which has nine months to meet all licensing requirements and open its doors, had proposed to state and town officials a site at 71 Old Tower Hill Road as part of its state application.
However, that process is stalled right now and it has indicated it may not go there, said Jason Parker of the town’s planning staff, and that was confirmed by an attorney who represented the company in seeking approvals from town board.
Company officials have declined to answer specific questions about the proposed site or any other relocation.
Parker said Tuesday that he has asked the company for a letter of withdrawal for that site, but that has yet to be submitted. The company has also asked for a number of continuances in the meeting and public hearing process, Parker added.
A state Department of Business Regulation spokesman said that the agency was unaware of any potential change in address that was listed on the company’s application.
“Applicants also have the duty to promptly notify the department of any changes to their application,” Brian Hodge of DBR said this week. He also said that qualification for the lottery was conditional on compliance with existing local zoning regulations.
“Full licensure is contingent upon the applicants’ ability to comply with all local regulations, including those related to zoning and land use,” he said.
The facility license was awarded to Plant Based Compassionate Care, Inc., whose business address on state records is listed as Warren. No South Kingstown address, as was listed on its town and state application, was found in those records.
The South Kingstown Planning Department records lists the 71 Old Tower Hill Road address – now in question – given by applicant Benjamin Herbst of Stamford, Conn., who is listed as manager.
He, along with an official of Plant Based Compassionate Care, Inc., are also affiliated with JBE Industries, LLC, which operates Sweetspot Farms in Warwick. It cultivates marijuana for authorized medical uses.
Another company officer, Jason Webski is also listed on various documents as founder and chief executive officer of JBE Enterprises. It is a self-described multi-state cannabis brand including cultivation, processing and distribution.
Neither he nor Herbst returned calls or emails asking for clarification about its plans and intended location.
Current Dispensary Sites
At present, the state has three compassion centers licensed: The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth and Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick.
Plant Based Compassionate Care, Inc. was chosen to exclusively provide, as a state-licensed and regulated operation, medical marijuana in the towns of South Kingstown, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Narragansett, Richmond, South Kingstown, and Westerly.
Solar Therapeutics Rhode Island, Inc., was chosen to provide the same service in North Kingstown and surrounding areas of Cranston, East Greenwich, and Warwick. Its dispensary will be at 333-335 Niantic Ave., Cranston.
Edward Dow, owner of Solar Therapeutics, told the Providence Business News that his company has paid “a lot” to hold onto a site over the months. He said he was excited about doing business in Rhode Island. Solar Therapeutics already has a dispensary in Somerset, Massachusetts.
Each applicant paid $10,000 for the chance to be selected from a random lottery drawing by state officials.
The new licensees now have preliminary licenses, and have nine months to get final licenses and open their dispensaries. They must pay an annual licensing fee to the state of $500,000.
Other areas for which licenses were issued by zone were:
Zone 1: Burrillville, Cumberland, Glocester, North Smithfield, Smithfield, and Woonsocket.
Zone 2: Central Falls, Johnston, Lincoln, North Providence, and Providence
Zone 3: Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich, and West Warwick
Increase in Dispensaries
Two years ago, after more than a decade of having legalized medical marijuana, the state legislature and former Gov. Gina Raimondo gave authorization to tripling – from three to nine – the number medical marijuana dispensary licenses in the state.
Nearly a year ago, over 24 cannabis companies expressed interest in the licensee by submitting applications. A legal dispute put an initial hold on the lottery-style award process, but officials decided recently to go forward with five or the six new areas.
State officials also decided to hold a lottery so that it carried the appearance of having no outside interference in the selection by a random choice.
A blindfolded Russell Griffiths — a former FBI agent and current state Department of Business Regulation official — on Oct. 29 pulled the winners using lottery balls examined and certified to be used in the same way the state gambling lottery works.
According to state records, there are about 19,000 registered medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island, with about an additional 18,000 out-of-state consumers that can buy from state dispensaries. Medical marijuana is known to help with symptoms from cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, and severe pain or nausea.
In addition, the expansion of the program is a business opportunity for nearly 70 state-licensed cannabis growers who have had only three stores where they can legally sell their product.
Joe Viele, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, said that having a dispensary South County will be good for the several local businesses in towns including North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and Exeter that cultivate marijuana for medical uses.
“Looking at it from a truly business point of view, you need a supply chain. If you’re going to have a storefront, with a point of sale, you’ll need inventory. You’ll need the whole business model,” he said.
The approval also sets the stage for potential distribution points for legalized recreational sales of the once-banned drug in the United States.
Lawmakers have been drawing closer to finding agreement on legislation to allow recreational cannabis. The state senate and Gov. Dan McKee had this year competing proposals on that legislation.
Although the licensing fees are expensive as are the set-up costs, the new compassion center owners are likely to get preference in getting a retail license once Rhode Island approves recreational marijuana, according to some reports.
Legislative leaders and McKee’s staff have been working in the last several months to work out differences and find some compromise legislation.