PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The sixth and final new marijuana dispensary license in Rhode Island may be awarded to a Pawtucket business on Esten Avenue next week, following the latest ruling in the long-running legal battle over who will get the lucrative license.
The R.I. Department of Business Regulation sent out a notice Friday that “an announcement relating to the Medical Marijuana Compassion Center Selection in Zone 6” would take place next Friday, April 29. The announcement lists Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket as the only applicant “qualified and eligible” for selection.
The news comes after another applicant, Rhode Island Care Concepts, lost its administrative appeal earlier this week, barring it from participating in the random lottery to win the license.
The proposed dispensary in East Providence was disqualified because it did not receive a use variance from the city’s Zoning Board of Review to open the business on Circle Street. The Zoning Board last summer suggested a dispensary would “alter the general character of the surrounding area,” which includes single-family homes and a daycare center.
The business appealed the Zoning Board’s decision to R.I. Superior Court last October, and that case is still pending. The company meanwhile challenged its disqualification from the lottery through DBR’s administrative rules.
Catherine Warren, the hearing officer, wrote in a decision filed Thursday that Rhode Island Care Concepts’ application became “incomplete, deficient and ineligible for the lottery once the respondent was denied zoning permission since it no longer met a licensing requirement to have a physical location.”
A lawyer for the business did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on whether they would further appeal the decision to R.I. Superior Court.
Mother Earth Wellness, the last applicant standing in Zone 6, is owned by Joe Pakuris, who also owns Kitchen and Countertop of New England on Esten Avenue in Pawtucket. The dispensary will be located in the same building as the kitchen store, where Pakuris already grows cannabis as a licensed cultivator.
Pakuris declined to comment Friday, pending the results of next week’s announcement. But he has previously expressed frustration about the delay in the lottery for Zone 6, since he has been the only applicant with zoning approvals for months.
Zone 6, which stretches from Pawtucket through the East Bay to Newport, is the only geographic zone that wasn’t included in the marijuana lottery held last October, when state officials pulled five other winners from a lottery tumbler. The six new dispensary licenses were approved by lawmakers in 2019.
At that time, Zone 6 was left out of the lottery because a proposed Newport dispensary, Atlas Enterprises, was challenging its own disqualification because the city of Newport bans dispensaries overall.
Atlas later dropped its appeal, but Rhode Island Care Concepts’ dispute further delayed the awarding of the final license.
In all, the six original applicants in Zone 6 were dwindled down to one due to zoning issues.
The medical marijuana licenses were highly sought after not only because the businesses can be so lucrative, but also because the medical dispensaries are likely to be the first to sell recreational cannabis when use of the drug is legalized.
Both of the legalization bills currently being considered at the State House would allow medical dispensaries to start selling recreationally first, while a process plays out to select more cannabis retailers.
More than two dozen companies applied in 2020 for the chance to win one of the six new medical licenses, with some submitting multiple $10,000 applications to get extra chances at being pulled from the lottery.
But there have been hiccups since the original lottery took place; the dispensary selected in Zone 1, RMI Compassion Center in Woonsocket, was denied a special use permit from that city’s zoning board.
There are also questions about whether the dispensary selected in Cranston, Solar Therapeutics, might be denied zoning approvals from that city because of a baseball field and park across the street. (The park is located in Providence.)
The Department of Business Regulation has not yet said what will happen with the dispensary licenses for those lottery winners that don’t secure local zoning approvals.