RUTLAND TOWN – Dan Reilly Jr. talked of his own struggles with medical issues, coping with pain and the relief that medical marijuana provides him.
Others shared their stories, too.
They all spoke Tuesday night at a meeting of the Rutland Town Selectboard to hear Reilly’s plan to buy and close the Norman Rockwell Museum of Vermont on Route 4 and turn it into a medical marijuana dispensary.
Reilly said he has had a traumatic brain injury and suffers from diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder and a condition in his throat that has required a tracheotomy and more than 180 surgeries.
In dealing with his own medical issues, the Mendon resident said, he has developed a “tremendous” empathy for others suffering medical ailments.
“I also learned that medical marijuana is a huge tool to help fight many conditions I have,” he said, adding it’s not money he’s after, but the chance to help others.
People in the packed the meeting room Tuesday night heard other stories from those speaking of the relief medicinal marijuana provides as they battle medical conditions, and their hope for a dispensary closer to home.
As of now, the closest dispensary to Rutland is in Brandon, about a half-hour’s drive. Vermont also has dispensaries in Brattleboro, Burlington and Montpelier.
Joshua Terenzini, chair of the town’s Selectboard, said at the close of the meeting that he received about 15 phones calls in recent weeks after news of the proposal for the museum site surfaced.
Most of those calls, he added, were in support of it, and many of those callers shared their own stories of how medical marijuana has helped them.
Terenzini said that as recently as two months ago he may have been against such a proposal, but those stories from residents have helped sway him in a different direction.
He then said to Reilly, “I wish you well with the application process.”
The proposal does not need town approval and the presentation Tuesday was to provide the board with information. The board a few years ago debated the issue of banning medical marijuana dispensaries, but ultimately decided against it.
“I’m proud to say that the board voted unanimously not to pass such an ordinance because people like you who were willing to come forward and share their medical experience,” John Paul Faignant, a Selectboard member, said to those in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting.
Gail DeRoche, of Rutland City, had moments earlier told the board she uses medical marijuana.
“It’s a miracle,” she said, adding that the medical marijuana she uses reduces her pain and she can now sleep.
Debra Poplawski, also from Rutland City, said she was currently on eight medications after having been diagnosed with brain cancer last month and had surgery to remove the tumor.
She said she would prefer a “natural” option to help ease her pain and recently applied for a medical marijuana card.
“I want it to take away my nausea, and take away my headaches,” Poplawski said.
A recently enacted law permits the state to license a fifth dispensary to increase patient access. Reilly, and his company Lily Pad Organics Inc., are seeking that license along with six other entities that submitted applications to the state by the July 28 deadline.
In addition, the new law also allows those with dispensary licenses to open a second facility.
A state panel will make a recommendation on which entity would receive that fifth license, basing it on a scoring system that takes into account factors such as the business plan, the “geographic convenience” and security.
Ultimately, state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson will decide whether to adopt that recommendation.
The application process is confidential, though word has gotten out for about four of the seven proposals for the fifth dispensary license.
One application calls for locating dispensaries in Winooski and Lyndonville with a production facility in Randolph. Other applications that have been identified are proposing dispensaries in Bennington and Hartford.
Reilly told the Selectboard on Tuesday that he hoped to hear from the state by mid-September whether his Rutland Town proposal is the one chosen.
He said the purchase of the Rockwell museum, which has been for sale for some time, is currently under contract. The marijuana would not be cultivated at that site, at least initially, he said. Instead, it would be grown off-site.
State Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, asked Reilly during the meeting where the “off-site” location was and whether it has been permitted. Harrison represents the nearby towns of Mendon, Killington and Bridgewater in addition to Chittenden.
Reilly replied that due to “security reasons” he did not want to disclose that location.
Another state lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Terenzini, R-Rutland Town, also spoke.
“I’m sure the board is aware that I have in the last two years voted against the legalization of marijuana,” he said. “But this is a different animal.”
He said that based on “compassion” for others coping with medical problems he supported the use of medicinal marijuana. “I wouldn’t be opposed to this dispensary,” he added.
Thomas Terenzini is the father of the Selectboard chair.
Selectboard members did ask questions at the meeting, centered on security, products that would be available at the dispensary and the process of gaining approval.
Reilly said his company would hire a private security company as well as place a gate on one side of a small bridge leading to the driveway and parking lot of the building, limiting access to the site.
The facility would pay taxes, including the 1 percent local option sales tax in the town, he said. Also, he told the board that he planned to give 2 percent of the profits to aid in the fight against opiate addiction.
Board members asked where specifically that would go, and Reilly said he hoped to work with them in determining the best use of those funds.
Customers of the dispensary would have to have valid state-issued medical marijuana cards, he added. He told the board that an ounce of marijuana cost about $250, and those with medical marijuana cards can buy up to 2 ounces a month. He said he planned to offer reduced prices for those at lower income levels, noting that insurance policies do not cover it.
Reilly said the location of the more than 5,000-square-foot Rockwell building is what attracted him to the site, close to the routes 4 and 7 intersection and also on a bus route.
The Rockwell museum in Rutland Town was established in 1976 and has “more than 2,500 Norman Rockwell magazine covers, advertisements, paintings, facts, and other published works,” according to its website.
Reilly said Tuesday night at the meeting that Rockwell is one of his favorite artists.
“There’ll definitely be a tribute to him somewhere in the building,” he added.