Pot Purveyors Eye Location in Shirley

February 1, 2019 GMT

SHIRLEY -- Principals in a start-up marijuana business called MJ’s Market and several other members of its self-billed “market team” made a presentation to selectmen Monday night in the hope that the board would entertain their proposal to open a facility in town and work with them to craft a Host Community Agreement.

The HCA is step one on a list of must-dos required by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission for the firm to obtain a license.

Besides the agreement and strict state regulations, MJ’s must pass muster with town officials before it can set up shop, which co-founder and CEO Heath Gaffney said could be by this summer, if all goes well.

For example, they’d need to go to the Planning Board for a special permit, per the town’s marijuana zoning bylaw, which sets operational parameters and pinpoints locations where such facilities can go.

One of those spots is the commercial/industrial-zoned area on Lancaster Road, where MJ’s proposes to site a “state-of-the-art” retail shop and indoor growing plant as well as corporate offices.

The team is also making the rounds in other communities and hopes to open other shops, he said, but the Shirley site would be its headquarters.

MJ’s Market would be housed in a modern building, renovated for the purpose, with 6,000 square feet and room for expansion. The security system would be top of the line, Gaffney said, sketching details.

Gaffney noted that he owns a security firm and that MJ’s Chief Security Officer, Howard Hunter, of Groton, is a retired state police officer.

Gaffney and MJ’s co-founder Brian Foley share the CEO title. Foley is a mechanical engineer with management, manufacturing and design experience, according to the snapshot resume provided for each member of the Market Team.

Chief Grower Sean Hegarty, the firm’s Master Grower, holds a BA in Environmental Policy and Planning.

Paging through, professional credentials include both academics degrees and job experience, plus community initiatives and charitable projects Gaffney listed next to his name. He’s on the board of Jaiden’s Angel Foundation, which helps kids touched by traumatic events in their lives and 50Legs Foundation, which provides prosthetic limbs. He believes strongly in community outreach, he said.

Citing that commitment, the firm promises to prioritize hiring military veterans when staffing starts, as well as giving first dibs to local job applicants and tapping local contractors for building projects.

MJ’s has a management pro, Mitchel Gaffney, for its retail business, an advisory board that includes business leaders and a “Cannabis industry pioneer and a “great group” of 12-14 investors.

MJ’s legal counsel is Smith, Costello & Crawford, which has advocated for medical marijuana regulations in the state and is a senior partner in a “leading Massachusetts-based Cannabis firm.”

The company’s strategic map includes leasing an existing building near the Airport Diner, with intent to purchase within five years.

In a new field that is gaining ground across the state, MJ’s aims to grow, Gaffney said.

Which could be good news for Shirley, which has almost no industry and could benefit from a 3-percent cut it would get from state excise taxes levied on the new firm, plus community impact fees for the first five years. Those fees, which the state needs documentation for, would offset costs for municipal services such as trash pickup and traffic control. In addition, the Police Department would require police details at designated times, Chief Sam Santiago said.

After lengthy discussion, the selectmen agreed to take that first step, authorizing Town Administrator Mike McGovern to work with MJ’s on a draft HCA document.

But they made it clear it’s only a preliminary move, not a green light and didn’t mean they were all for the idea. In fact, two of them said they were against it, at least in principle.

“I lost a son to a drug overdose,” Chairman Debra Flagg said. “I’m not in favor of... drugs.”

But she wouldn’t want to block an opportunity for the town to reap revenue, so she might be persuaded, Flagg said. Provided plans include fencing around the facility. Not a “virtual fence” as Gaffney envisioned, but a real one to cordon it off from area residences and a nearby elementary school.

Selectman Enrico Cappucci, a former Shirley police chief, said it was doubtful he’d vote for it, but he seemed less firm on that stance after Flagg had her say. She’s willing to listen, she said, but the fence is a must, in her view.