PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Cannabis cultivator and retailer True East Leaf says it is "very close" to submitting its state application to open a facility at the former Richmond Bakery on Seymour Street.
In a recent outreach meeting, the "budding" dispensary outlined its action plans for security, diversion to minors, and how it will positively impact the community.
The venture owned by Kayley Stasiewski and Tommy Pytko was approved for a special permit
by the Zoning Board of Appeals in February of 2020. It had received approval through the Community Development Board the previous year but the ZBA delayed the vote through a series of meetings with concerns over possible odor and parking.
Attorney Blake Mensing represented True East Lead at the meeting. In regard to security, he said cannabis facilities have to be "buttoned up tighter than a bank or even a pharmacy."
Every lock on site is required to be commercial grade and every square inch of the facility covered by surveillance cameras with the bathrooms as an exception. Cameras are required to have high-resolution imging, as each frame of the video must be freezable and legible.
The cameras will also contain an irremovable date, time, and location stamp so they can be shared with the police in the case of a break-in or any crime-related activities. Footage has to be maintained for a minimum of 90 days.
"Only certain members of True East Leaf, you know, corporate hierarchy, may enter a given space," Mensing explained. "So for instance, the finished product vault would be for certain a limited access area where only upper management or whoever has explicitly designated authority may enter into that space. Those spaces are typically controlled with either a keypad a key fob, or in some cases, biometrics and what you want to be able to do is sort of match up the camera log with the door entry log of those limited access areas, again, anywhere there's a finished product or cannabis growing is likely going to be limited in some way."
He noted that the state Cannabis Control Commission creates these specifications and will review the security plan as well as Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.
"And typically, because the requirements are so astronomically above and beyond what a bank or a pharmacy requires, most chiefs of police say, 'Well, if you're satisfying a state standard, you've probably satisfying ours as well,'" Mensing said.
As an adult-use facility, cannabis cultivation facilities and retail dispensaries require an age of 21 to enter. In addition to the gatekeeping function, customers' IDs are verified at the door and at checkout.
There is also a state-required "seed to sale" tracking software program that assigns a unique alphanumeric code to every particular plant that assists with the diversion of minors from cannabis sales.
"What I advise clients to do is, in your wholesale relationships or contracts with your purchasers on the on the growth side, you have a look back provision, so if your products with your unique RFID code in the seed to sale tracking platform ends up in the hands of minors, it's not just 'oh, we put the blinders on, it's not our problem,' you would have a provision to get out of that wholesale supplier agreement," Mensing explained. "Because the person who was purchasing it isn't keeping track of where their cannabis ends up and that's completely unacceptable."
With curbside purchasing options becoming popular, everyone in the customer's vehicle has to be 21 or older as well.
The state reportedly ran the numbers for residents' baseline cannabis consumption as compared to conviction rates and sentencing harshness related to it and identified that white people and people of color use cannabis at "virtually identical" rates, yet people of color — particularly Black and brown individuals — face three times greater sentencing and frequency of arrest.
This influenced a statewide positive impact plan that requires a cannabis licensee to provide volunteer hours, donations, or a combination of both to entities that help support people of disproportionately harmed communities.
True Leaf East has been advised to donate to two nonprofits that are willing to take cannabis dollars, one being the New England Veterans Alliance.
"I believe Pittsfield is itself an area of disproportionate impact and there's obviously ready-made population in the city to potentially benefit from this," Mensing said. "On the local level, you can have a positive impact in your community by being good corporate citizens, so I know Kayley and Tom have been sort of exploring where their volunteer hours or dollars might do a little bit of good in Pittsfield itself, that's something that's sort of in exploration mode, trying to figure out where the most impact could come."
He also discussed how the facility will take actions to avoid constituting a nuisance to the surrounding area including using a carbon charcoal filter through an HVAC system to prevent smell leakage and working with the city to create the facility's traffic and parking plan.
"Things have definitely progressed," Pytko said. "We'll be submitting our state application soon and anticipating it'll take a few months after that to get an approval, and we're going to go from there."