Brandon moves closer to hosting a marijuana dispensary

BRANDON — The Development Review Board in Brandon has acted quickly on a controversial application to establish a medical marijuana dispensary in Brandon, granting a permit last week and opening the door to an appeal.
The move came just a few days after Brandon residents voiced their concerns about a pot dispensary at a well-attended town meeting.
The five-member DRB voted unanimously to approve a change of use application for Alexandra Ford and Rutland County Organics for a 6,700-square-foot building at 84 Lover’s Lane. The property, owned by Chuck Mitchell, is currently in the rural development zone and is permitted for light wood manufacturing. The DRB approved a change of use to a licensed medical marijuana dispensary and manufacturing facility.
The decision was signed by acting  DRB Chair John Peterson on March 7.
The DRB findings were as follows:
•  The facility will have its own activated charcoal filter system or ozonator for air filtration. A charcoal filter will take out 80 percent of the smell. The applicant testified it might affect people around them but it would not limit quality of life.
•  There are no expected changes to exterior lights.
•  Patients can either ask RCO to grow the marijuana or patients can do it for themselves.
•  There will be a complete system of self-autonomous cameras, which view the entire area 24/7 and send images to an off-site computer that can be accessed remotely. A closed circuit system run by private security firm First Line Security will archive surveillance tapes for six months. There will be other tracking devices.
The board also applied some conditions with its approval, including provisions that lighting be directed downward and not bleed over the property line, that the project meet state and local regulations for recycled and re-circulated air, and that there is proper parking for up to 10 employees and two customers.
RCO has said its operation will be totally organic, with no herbicides, pesticides or chemicals.
According to the March 2012 data submitted with the application, Rutland County has a total of 27 patients with a prescription. As of Feb. 1, there were 36 patients on the registry living in Addison County, according to state officials. Patients can come from other counties besides Rutland, though they cannot come from out of state.
Patients must specify that RCO would be their dispensary and they can only change their dispensary once in 90 days. RCO does not have any patients yet.
Some Brandon residents have recently expressed their disapproval with the plan to establish a medical marijuana facility in Brandon, saying it will increase drug use and the crime rate in Brandon. There is no proof that a medical marijuana dispensary has that effect, but opponents also cite the fact that children live in the area around the proposed dispensary site. At the very least, opponents say, the selectboard should have held a public information meeting about the issue before it went to the DRB. The selectboard did not act on the proposal, remanding it to Town Zoning Administrator Tina Wiles and the DRB since there was no town ordinance banning such a facility.
A motion was made at Brandon’s town meeting last week to encourage a ban on medical marijuana facilities within town limits, but the motion failed. There were 53 votes in favor of banning any marijuana dispensary within the town limits, and 70 votes against such a ban.
And not just anyone can appeal the DRB’s decision. Only those with interested party status as stated at the Feb. 19 DRB hearing can appeal, and they have 30 days from the March 7 date of the decision, or April 6, to file an appeal with the Vermont Environmental Court.
To overturn the DRB’s decision to issue a permit, the appellants must prove that the project would have adverse effects on the building, the character of the area, traffic, local bylaws and ordinances, and impacts under the Act 250 land use law.
The Vermont Medical Marijuana law of 2004 allows for up to four dispensaries statewide to serve almost 500 patients on the state registry. There are currently two dispensaries permitted, one in Burlington and one in Waterbury. There are almost 200 patients on the state registry living in four southern counties of Vermont who are unable to access the more northern dispensaries.
By law, a patient must suffer from a “debilitating medical condition” in order to qualify for the medical marijuana registry. State law allows patients suffering from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, HIV, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, wasting disease, or Parkinson’s disease to access medical marijuana in order to alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Patients must have the approval of a physician they have been seeing for at least six months, who authorizes the use of medical marijuana for the patient once all other avenues have been exhausted. Patients must be screened by the Department of Public Safety, submit to a background check and agree to no-knock searches by law enforcement before being accepted onto the state registry.
The dispensaries operate under the authority of the state Department of Public Safety. They must operate by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed to be seen. The facility must be equipped with surveillance and alarm equipment, including video surveillance cameras and motion detecting lights.

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