TAUNTON – The marijuana facility on Mozzone Boulevard will be the standard by which other such facilities in the country will be measured.
That’s the opinion of Matthew Harrison, who, with his brother Sean, is providing management and consulting advice to the non-profit group now developing a cultivation, processing and retail operation inside 30A Mozzone Boulevard.
“We didn’t rush into this,” said Matthew, 35, who called the still-evolving facility “amazing” and “one of a kind” in terms of its clean-room manufacturing specifications inside the 47,000-square-foot work space.
Harrison says he’s worked in the legal-marijuana-facility field since 2009 and has assisted in the procurement of operating licenses in Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Nevada and Maryland, as well as Massachusetts.
He says both he and his sibling Dean, 33, were hired by Commonwealth Alternative Care Inc., the nonprofit group that was previously issued a provisional license by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, and which is now in the process of creating the grow-and-sell facility.
Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. said he understands that the subject of marijuana facilities is still somewhat controversial.
But he points to the fact that voters, in 2012, statewide and in Taunton endorsed the use of medical marijuana, and four years later voted to allow production and sale of recreational marijuana.
Hoye said Commonwealth Alternative Care — which in 2016 was granted a special permit by the City Council for its hybrid grow-and-sell model — has donated money to local nonprofits such as the Boys and Girls Club, as well as the annual Lighting of the Green celebration.
“It speaks volumes about their character,” said Hoye. “They’ve really been a great partner.”
The Mozzone Boulevard facility, he said, with its job creation will provide “an economic stimulus to the area.”
John Greene, CAC’s community development director, in 2016 told the City Council that the nonprofit group was prepared to pay the city $225,000 the first two years of operation — of which $100,000 would be used to hire two police officers, with the rest deposited into both the Mayor’s Worthy Cause account and city coffers.
Greene said CAC would donate $75,000 to the city in the third year and $150,000 each year thereafter.
Hoye, however, said his office has been negotiating the terms of that agreement as result of changes to CAC’s original business model.
The mayor says his office “gets calls all the time” from marijuana-based non-profit groups, especially those interested in establishing a cultivation facility within city limits.
Taunton Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kerrie Babin said CAC was one of eight businesses to have recently received an Economic Impact Award from her group. She said she presented the award to Sean Harrison.
“It’s becoming a booming industry,” Babin said of medical marijuana.
There are now 22 registered marijuana dispensaries open for business in the Bay State, according to Ann Scales, DPH director of communications.
Commonwealth Alternative Care currently has a provisional certificate of registration to sell marijuana. In order to grow the plant it will need to pass an inspection for a final certificate of registration.
Each non-profit group, the DPH said, is allowed to submit three applications for three locations.
A second Taunton dispensary in the works
Taunton Planning and Conservation Director Kevin Scanlon said he signed off on an application two weeks ago for a representative of nonprofit MassMedicum Corp. — which in 2015 paid $600,000 to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for a 10-acre site in East Taunton’s Liberty and Union Industrial Park.
The group that year said it planned to build a medical-pot dispensary at the site. Its general manger told the City Council it would agree to pay the city at least $130,000 per year, which would enable the hiring of two new cops.
Now the Quincy-based MassMedicum must get approvals from other city departments and would need to come before the City Council in the event of being required to have a special permit to operate the dispensary.
The first marijuana-related, non-profit group that came to Taunton, after the law legalizing medical marijuana was passed in 2012, was former Congressman William Delahunt’s Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts.
That group’s proposal included plans for cultivation on Mozzone Boulevard and retail sales in East Taunton.
The Department of Public Health, however, subsequently prohibited Delahunt from opening three dispensaries, including one each in Mashpee and Plymouth.
A judge later overturned the ruling, but Delahunt resigned from the company.
The Harrison brothers, who originally hail from Stoughton but now live separately in Bridgewater, said they so far have hired three full-time employees and will have hired a total of about 30 by the time CAC opens April 1.
They said they expect eventually to have a staff of at least 60 working inside the building.
A recent job fair yielded 200 “impressive resumes,” and another one will likely be held, according to Sean Harrison. Entry level pay starts at around $20 an hour and includes health insurance and a 401k plan.
He also noted that the company has hired a number of local subcontractors to work inside the building.
In terms of onsite security, Harrison said between 150 and 200 surveillance cameras, as required per state regulations, are now installed in and around the building.
In addition to 24-hour security outside, they said two security guards will be on duty inside the building during business hours.
Employees must use a key card to open a bifurcated fence in order to park behind the building, where they enter through a rear entrance door.
“It’s like a casino,” said Sean Harrison, who said it’s not uncommon to hire retired or former police officers to be part of the security team.
In addition to selling at the Taunton site, he said Commonwealth Alternative Care has an agreement to provide product to dispensaries in Cambridge and Brockton.
An ounce of high-grade marijuana for patients with medical cards, Harrison said, will cost at least $150.
But he stressed that the CAC facility will also emphasize high-quality manufacture of non-euphoric, non-THC edible items to relieve physical pain and anxiety — including pills, balms, chocolate, liquid tinctures, salves, gummies, chocolate-covered espresso beans and patches.
Once inside the building, employees use a security card to gain access either to the cultivation or post-cultivation sections.
Two showers have been installed in each the men’s and women’s locker rooms, which is required by local building code due to the presence of manufacturing.
Workers must don clean-room shoes, hairnets, beard-nets and gloves.
Matthew Harrison stressed that no pesticides will ever be used, so as to avoid the spread of pathogens.
He noted an incident in February whereby the DPH suspended retail sales of medical-marijuana products being sold in Cambridge and Georgetown by Healthy Pharms Inc. — after the company notified the DPH that a sample batch of pot tested positive for the pesticide bifenthrin.
Matthew Harrison said reliable research through the years has shown that chemical compounds common to marijuana are found in a mother’s breast milk.
“It becomes dormant from that point,” in a person’s body, which Harrison says is “an invitation to disease.”
Harrison said reports published in the International Journal of Cancer support that theory. He also credits what he says has been important research and development conducted by Tikkun Olam Company of Israel.
The chemical compound THC, which produces marijuana’s intoxicating effect, was first isolated by Israeli scientists in 1964.
“We’ll be making our way to Israel soon,” Harrison said.
He said it typically takes 22 weeks from seed germination to a finished product.
During the growing process in which specialized lights are used, he said the plants undergo a rotating schedule of 12 hours with lights on and 12 hours in darkness.
In the meantime, Harrison said, CAC has a wholesale agreement with other established growers to provide patients with product beginning April 1.
He said he expects the Taunton facility eventually will also sell recreational marijuana.
Recreational marijuana, in addition to the standard 6.25-percent sales tax, will be taxed at a rate of 10.75 percent and be subject to an optional local tax of 3 percent.
The Taunton City Council so far has not addressed the issue of the optional local tax.
The Council voted in 2017 to adopt a city-wide moratorium on the sale of recreational pot until the end of calendar 2018. The reasoning for the measure was to allow state lawmakers adequate time to formulate legal restrictions and parameters regarding recreational marijuana sales.
Final regulations for governing recreational marijuana sales were adopted this past week by the Cannabis Control Commission.
The other half of the Mozzone Boulevard building inside Route 140 Industrial Park, located off of County Street/Route 140, for eight years has served as the city’s materials recycling facility — where curbside recyclable trash is trucked in, sorted and shipped out to buyers.
The so-called MRF is operated by WeCare Organics of Elbridge, N.Y.
Building owner and B&D Construction president Daniel DaRosa previously has stated he looks forward to when the non-profit CAC finally opens for business.
“It’s good for the city and good for me so that I can rent the empty space,” DaRosa said.
Private investment for the Taunton facility, which Harrison says amounts to “a tremendous” amount of capital investment, is being handled by Florida-based Sea Hunter Capital Partners LLC.
A call seeking details of the investment from Seahorse principal Robert Leidy was not immediately returned.
Public relations for the project have been handled by Mark Horan, executive vice president of content and communications for Boston-based Novus Group.
Matthew Harrison said he can’t reveal the source of the seeds that will be planted when the facility opens in April, as result of federal law that does not yet recognize medical marijuana as a legal substance.
“We call it ‘Immaculate Conception,’” he said.
Harrison, in addition to being manager of Alternative care Resource Group, is also listed, in terms of the Taunton project, as operations officer of Sea Hunter Therapeutics and chief operating officer of Commonwealth Alternative Care.
Black market versus legal
The Harrisons say they don't see cheap, black market pot sold on the street as a competitive threat or challenge to their high-grade and safe product.
"Would you still buy moonshine?" Sean said. "And why risk getting in trouble with the law?"
"Why risk your health if you don't have to?" his brother Matthew added.
And a legitimate, legal producer, Sean said, provides the buyer with a reliable product that hasn't been mixed or cut with a potentially dangerous element.
"It's a consistent experience every time you come," he said.