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Prospective Newport dispensary drops appeal after delaying RI cannabis lottery

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A prospective medical marijuana dispensary in Newport has dropped its appeal before the R.I. Department of Business Regulation, which could allow a lottery to move forward to award a license in a region stretching from Pawtucket through the East Bay to Aquidneck Island.

Atlas Enterprises Inc., which had proposed a dispensary on J.T. Connell Highway, was blocked more than six months ago from participating in the state’s random lottery to open a cannabis business because Newport has an ordinance banning dispensaries.

But the company appealed the decision, causing the entire process of issuing new medical marijuana licenses to be delayed for much of this year. The delays led to frustration from the other applicants, who had secured premises last year as required, only to be left waiting to find out if they’d ever be able to open a business. (State lawmakers approved the expansion of the number of marijuana dispensaries from three to nine in 2019.)

The DBR finally went forward with the lottery last month in five out of six geographic zones, holding off only on Zone 6, the region where Atlas was appealing its disqualification.

Atlas sent a letter to DBR on Monday withdrawing its appeal, and the case was formally dismissed on Tuesday.

Atlas Enterprises is owned by Christopher McGoff, a Maryland man, and the company was being represented by former state Rep. Robert Flaherty, who is also listed as a board member. Flaherty did not return a phone call or email seeking comment. He had previously declined to comment on what the grounds were for the appeal.

It is not immediately clear when the lottery for Zone 6 will be held, now that the appeal is out of the way.

“We are determining next steps for Zone 6 and will have an update for qualified applicants as soon as possible,” said Matt Santacroce, the state’s chief of cannabis regulation, in an email.

Three applicants were initially deemed qualified for the lottery in Zone 6. (Three others, including Atlas, were disqualified in April.)

But since then, two of the qualified Zone 6 applicants have been denied zoning variances in their respective cities.

Rhode Island Care Concepts, which proposed a dispensary on Circle Street in East Providence, was denied a use variance by the city’s Zoning Board of Review in August, writing in a decision that it would “alter the general character of the surrounding area,” which includes single-family homes and a daycare center. The board suggested an industrial zone as a more appropriate location.

New Leaf Compassion Center, proposed on India Street in Pawtucket, was also denied a special use permit and variance in that city.

The DBR did not immediately say if those two dispensaries would be disqualified from the lottery.

“As you know, the regulations require full compliance with local zoning laws,” Santacroce said.

The remaining applicant in Zone 6 is Mother Earth Wellness, which has proposed to open a dispensary in Pawtucket on Esten Street. The proposed dispensary is in an industrial zone and received a special use permit from Pawtucket in December 2020.

Last month following the lottery, the state issued preliminary licenses to RMI Compassion Center in Woonsocket, Pinnacle Compassion Center in Central Falls, Green Wave Compassion Center in Foster, Solar Therapeutics in Cranston and Plant Based Compassionate Care in South Kingstown.

Three existing medical dispensaries are open in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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