SPRINGFIELD — Four approved marijuana retailers have yet to open in Springfield, but the city is already putting out the welcome mat to lure more companies, including shops and cultivation operations.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, in a news release late Thursday, said the city expects in October to begin accepting applications from recreational marijuana businesses for its second round of approvals.
Sarno said he would consider approving up to four new retail applicants and up to two new cultivation applicants.
In 2019, Sarno selected four marijuana businesses, out of 27 applicants, for host community agreements.
Three of those companies have secured local permits to operate marijuana shops in Springfield, but are still awaiting state approvals before they can open.
A fourth company, Insa, is seeking to move forward after it prevailed in a lawsuit against the City Council, which initially denied Insa a special permit despite Sarno’s backing.
No cultivation applications were approved in the first round.
“I want to assure that a fair and transparent evaluation is put in place to review any new applications or amended applications by past applicants, seeking to open up an Adult Use Marijuana business in Springfield,” Sarno said. “We have conducted a successful first round and I am confident that we will be able to put forth another successful second round based upon the changes to the laws, regulations and public health concerns due to the (coronavirus) pandemic.”
Two of the companies approved by Sarno and the City Council in the first round were Holistic Industries, which hopes to open before the end of September at 1300 Boston Road, and 311 Page Blvd LLC, which is planning a retail operation at that address in East Springfield.
A third company, 6 Brick’s LLC, was approved for a store on Albany Street, but has notified the city that it will seek to change the location to 1860 Main St., in a portion of the building that houses The Republican newspaper.
Insa was denied a special permit by the council last year, but that decision was overturned by Hampden Superior Court Judge Michael K. Callan. Insa is planning a marijuana store at the former Luxe Burger Bar on West Columbus Avenue.
There is already one medical marijuana business in Springfield, operated by Insa on Cottage Street.
Sarno said he will reconvene the committee the reviewed the first round of applications to update the request for proposal process to comply with changes in state marijuana laws and regulations, as well as the changing environment caused by COVID–19.
City Solicitor Edward Pikula will work with the city’s first-round consultant, lawyer Julie E. Steiner, to launch the next round of the application and evaluation process, Sarno said.
Sarno said he does believe the first-round shops will open in the very near future.
“I would have liked to have seen them open for review, but it has been a long state process and of course, the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has thrown a ‘curveball’ into grand opening aspects,” Sarno said by email.
Due to the review process being prolonged, Sarno said his administration will move forward “to create positive economic impact opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship in retail and cultivation aspects.”
The mayor said he would like to have special consideration for “social justice and/or social equity applicants.” State guidelines encourage business applications from populations disproportionately affected when marijuana was illegal in the past.
Steiner, of Julie E. Steiner Consulting LLC, is a professor of law at Western New England University, where she teaches cannabis law and policy, environmental law, torts, land use, and introduction to law, the city said.
In the news release, Steiner commended Sarno for the plan to launch the second round, saying COVID-19 “has forced many other municipalities to slow their cannabis review process.”
“The burgeoning cannabis industry generates business ownership opportunities, local jobs and income,” Steiner said. “Since the time the City engaged in its prior selection process, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has adapted its regulations in many areas and significantly expanded its social equity program. The City’s decision to open Phase II reflects its commitment to facilitate a safe, equitable and robust cannabis industry in Springfield.”
Steiner will work with the review committee, which will include representatives from the health, police, fire, planning, law, building, public works, finance and procurement departments, as well as a city councilor appointed by the council president.