PROVIDENCE — Former state Democratic Party chairman and congressional candidate William J. Lynch and Pawtucket’s recently retired police chief are among a group of public figures who want to open the state’s first compassion center to sell medical marijuana with a plan to grow cannabis in an ornate downtown Pawtucket building that formerly housed an exclusive old-time men’s club.
Theirs is one of 18 groups that have applied to the state for licenses. Among the other applicants is a pastor from West Warwick who is facing marijuana charges after the police raided his Providence Street church in September and found 183 marijuana plants.
The Pawtucket contingent submitted a proposal under the business name Rhode Island Center for Compassion and Wellness, which would operate its storefront dispensary at 26 Main St., in the city’s downtown.
Lynch lost in the September primary to then-Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline in the campaign for the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy. Cicilline won the seat in November.
Lynch, a former city councilor and mayoral candidate, is the son of the late Pawtucket Mayor Dennis M. Lynch. His younger brother is former Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch. Joining Lynch in the license application is George L. Kelly III, a 36-year veteran of the Pawtucket Police Department. He retired as chief two months ago. Other principals are Mary E. Bray, a member of the state Public Utilities Commission and of the Pawtucket City Council, a seat she has held since 1992; and Louis Yip, a major commercial and real-estate developer and owner of the China Inn in Pawtucket.
The group, according to its application, would begin by growing medical marijuana in the basement of the Main Street storefront. Once they were up and running, the cultivation center would expand to the nearby To Kalon Club on Main Street, once a prestigious social club that catered to rich businessmen following the post-Civil War manufacturing boom. The glory days have faded over the past two decades and membership has eroded to just a couple dozen members.
The 103-year-old three-story building at the edge of the Route 95 S-curve is for sale.
The Pawtucket group hopes to save the historic brick building.
“Our approach to using distressed property and rehab buildings will enhance neighborhoods in our host community, increase property valuations and tax revenue and create jobs,” the proposal states.
The Health Department collected its first round of medical-marijuana dispensary applications in May, released in early June the names of 15 entities filing proposals, then announced in September that none of the bidders qualified and solicited a new round of applications. After getting the new proposals in mid-November, the Health Department late last week made the applications public on its website.
All told, 10 new applicants, including the Pawtucket group, submitted applications accepted for review. The other nine are: AltMed Inc., of Little Compton; Chronic Pain Management Center of Rhode Island, of North Kingstown; Help on the Way Charities, of Providence; Hope Apothecary, of Warwick; Institute for Alternative Therapeutics, of Cranston; Ocean State Compassion, of Providence; Prospect Ministries, of West Warwick; Rhode Island Medicinal Caregivers, of Warwick; and the Cassandrew Corp. of Cranston.
Previous applicants submitting proposals a second time are: Breakwater Herbal Compassion Center, of Providence; Community Care Health and Wellness, of Cranston; Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, of Portsmouth; Innovative Solutions for Non-Profits, of Providence; MariMed Caregivers, of East Greenwich; Rhode Island Compassion Center, of Warwick; Summit Medical Compassion Center, of Warwick; and The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, of Providence.
Originally, the Slater Center had ambitious plans to transform the old Capitol Record Center on Harris Avenue in Olneyville into a full-service marijuana sales and cultivation center. The group’s new proposal has them opening in a 15,000-square-foot building at 170 Royal Little Drive, near Smithfield Avenue in the city’s North End.
The addresses of the groups filing the applications, which are all required to be nonprofit, often differ from those of the compassion centers and cultivation sites. For example, AltMed’s company address is in Little Compton, but the dispensary and grow site is Chopmist Hill Road in North Scituate, while the MariMed Caregivers business address is East Greenwich, though its dispensary and cultivation site is on Broadway in Pawtucket.
Most of the dispensaries have cultivation sites on the same, or adjacent parcel of property in Providence, Cranston or Warwick, but a few plan on growing in more remote locations in North Kingstown, Foster, Tiverton, Burrillville and Exeter.
The Health Department will host a public hearing on Feb. 7 on the new round of applications in the department’s auditorium. Health officials are poised to choose in March or April up to three applicants to open compassion centers.
The dispensary or dispensaries would sell marijuana to people who have been approved by the Health Department to use cannabis to deal with certain medical conditions. More than 2,200 Rhode Island residents have been given that approval. They now must either grow the marijuana themselves or get it from state-approved growers.
Kelley is not the only former police chief affiliated with a compassion center proposal. Augustine A. Comella, a retired Cranston police colonel, is part of a group, Rhode Island Compassion Center, that’s interested in opening a distribution center on Greenwich Avenue in Warwick.
Another proposal comes from Erik Johansson, pastor of Prospect Ministries, in West Warwick.
Johansson hopes to open a marijuana dispensary near the Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, or in close proximity to Kennedy Plaza and the bus terminal in downtown Providence. He wants to grow the marijuana from his church at 724 Providence St., West Warwick.
Johansson and his live-in girlfriend, Lydia Brindamour, were arrested in September and charged with manufacturing, possession and delivery of a controlled substance and conspiracy to violate the controlled substance act after the police raided the church.
The charges, which are pending, came despite police “knowing we were medical-marijuana patients and caregivers,” Johansson said in his license application, filed in the name of Prospect Ministries.
In his proposal, Johansson, ordained by World Christianship Ministries of Fresno, Calif., according to his application, attempted to turn a bad situation — his arrest — into a resumé builder as a successful grower of marijuana.
“At the church, we had one of the largest and most successful grows in Rhode Island,” he wrote. “The West Warwick narcotics squad commented that they had never seen larger or more healthy plants. They also stated that they had not seen a more sanitary or organized garden.”
Many of the applications include detailed security plans that feature retired police officers or security specialists on their payrolls. Johansson proposes a more organic approach.
“We would probably get a male Rottweiler and a female pit bull for companionship and early warning system,” he wrote.