Bennington site eyed for medical cannabis dispensary
BENNINGTON — The group that holds the Vermont's newest medical marijuana license is focusing on a different Bennington site for a dispensary, after dropping a residential Elm Street location last fall amid neighborhood opposition.
PhytoScience Institute, LLC, has applied for town permits to operate a dispensary in the former state Department of Motor Vehicles space within the business center at 120 Depot St. The permit request is scheduled to go before the Development Review Board on Feb. 6.
The shopping center also includes a Family Dollar store, Hollister's Appliance and Anytime Fitness, along with TJ's Fish Fry at the opposite end of a parking lot.
The business space, which is vacant, would be converted for the town's first medical marijuana dispensary. It would distribute prescribed medical cannabis to registered patients by appointment only, according to the application paperwork.
In addition, there would be a separate space "for an apothecary that will sell hemp-related products."
PhytoScience Institute said the facility "would be a low-volume, low traffic operation with the expectation of 10 to 20 patients per week."
The Department of Motor Vehicles vacated the space and moved to an East Main Street location in early 2017.
Unlike the 345 Elm St. site the group first considered last year, the Depot Street space is not in a residential zone, Planning Director Dan Monks confirmed Friday. Although a building on Elm Street once held a medical office building, that was a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
The Depot Street center is in a commercial zoning district.
PhytoScience Institute also has state approval for a second dispensary and is looking for a site in St. Albans, as well as for a marijuana cultivation facility, expected to be located in central Vermont.
The group received conditional approval last fall for the state's fifth medical marijuana program license, and now must secure ownership or use of proposed site and seek local permits.
Once facilities are ready to begin operations, a final state inspection is required before the sales license is issued.
Currently, PhytoScience Institute operates a laboratory in Waterbury that researches and develops high-quality medical marijuana and performs quality testing, using proprietary methods for the Vermont Patients Alliance and other entities.
Bennington is considered one of the areas underserved through the state's medical marijuana program, which now allows facilities in Montpelier, Brattleboro, Brandon and Burlington.
Applications for the fifth state license were received by the Vermont Marijuana Registry last year, and PhytoScience Institute selected in September through that process.
Legislation passed in 2017 allowed a fifth cultivation/dispensary license and also permits each of the original four license-holders to establish a satellite facility in another area. Applications have been submitted for satellite dispensaries in Middlebury, South Burlington, Williston and Hartford.
William Cats-Baril, CEO of PhytoScience Institute, said Monday evening that finding a suitable location in Bennington has proven difficult in part because of the "explosion of child care centers in Bennington" in recent years. When a required 1,000-foot buffer zone around the facility is factored in, the available and suitable space for a dispensary in town is considerably restricted, he said.
Cats-Baril added that he hopes to overcome any misunderstandings about a medical marijuana facility, which is not a retail store but "more like a medical practice," with a low volume of patients arriving during the day by appointment only.
"I was a bit perplexed about some of the misunderstandings," he said. "This is a well-run state program."
PhytoScience Institute plans extensive renovations at the facility space and hopes that, pending permit approvals, to open in March, he said.
He also has said PhytoScience Institute is looking for a site somewhere between Bennington and St. Albans for a marijuana cultivation facility. In the short-term, he said PhytoScience has agreements with two existing license-holders to purchase medical marijuana for patients in the Bennington and St. Albans areas.
Information about PhytoScience Institute is available at www.phytoscienceinstitute.com.
Information about the Vermont medical marijuana program can be viewed at http://medicalmarijuana.vermont.gov.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.
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