AYER -- A letter of support for Shirley resident John Hillier's proposed medical-marijuana dispensary on Central Avenue is being authored by the Board of Health.
Hillier has asked selectmen for a letter of support as well, but according to BOH member Mary Spinner, although three of the five selectmen voted in support of the letter, the board has yet to draft it.
Spinner said she feels time is of the essence.
"He seemed to want this to go out soon," she said of Hillier's request. "He has spent a tremendous amount of money."
In November, 63 percent of Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question permitting medical-marijuana dispensaries and roughly the same percentage of Ayer voters supported the question. Under state law, a community may delay the process, but it may not ban a dispensary from opening within its borders.
In May, Hillier presented his plans for just such a dispensary to town officials. That prompted selectmen and Planning Board members to seek a moritorium on applications of 90 days to a year to allow more time for deliberating the matter. But on June 24, Town Meeting voters said no to a moratorium.
Since state regulations, released in late May, limit dispensaries to five per county, Hillier has stated that he wants to submit his completed application to the state as early as possible.
If Hillier's application is approved, Ayer could be one of the first communities in the state to have a registered medical-marijuana dispensary.
"I think this is a public health issue and that the Board of Health should be promoting health resources for the town," said Papineau.
"And he has done everything the right way," added Spinner. Hillier has presented his plan for the dispensary at both a public hearing and before the selectmen, and has visited two similar operations in Vermont, she said.
BOH Chairman Heather Hasz said she would draft a letter to share with fellow board members Spinner and Pam Papineau the following day.
BOH seeks opportunities for collaboration
Hasz said she would like to see the board apply for a collaborative mini-grant.
Hasz got the idea, she said, at a June meeting of the Community Health Network Area of North Central Massachusetts. That organization brings together residents, hospitals, local service agencies, schools, the faith community, businesses, boards of health, municipalities and other concerned citizens to identify and address the health needs of member communities.
One item that came out of the meeting was that now CHNA can provide mini-grants, from $200-$2,000, that focus on healthy communities, fitness, wellness and specific programming.
Although the next deadline is Aug. 9, she would like to see a collaborative effort to apply for a grant at some point in the near future. As she is a runner, her first inkling was to write a grant proposal for a school program such as "Read and Run."
Papineau said she would like to arrange for a health fields career day between the high school and the local hospital, but that she had not been able to get anyone from Nashoba Valley Medical Center to call her back.
"We know what doctors and nurses and phlebotomists are, but do you know what surgical techs, ultrasound and imaging techs do?" she posited.
Spinner said that Ayer Council on Aging Executive Director Karin Dynice-Swanfeldt had a successful health fair and will now "make it a yearly thing down at the council.
"We are getting older, families live farther apart, and we want to keep everybody in the home, but what services are there to help people?" she asked.
"It's all about prevention," said Hasz. The Council on Aging, hospitals, schools could be a great collaboration."
The seed money could lead to applications for other grants or help get another group involved, she said.
Papineau suggested that even putting out a resource sheet would be helpful. "Where do you go and who do you call? It seems like in the past 15 years (information on the availability of resources) hasn't improved any."
Board members agreed to keep the CHNA mini-grants in mind for the future.
The BOH's next meeting will be held July 22.